DOVER — Questions greatly outnumbered answers Thursday when the Pend Oreille Basin Commission took up a proposal to use water from Lake Pend Oreille to aid threatened bull trout and other fish below Albeni Falls Dam.
The Kalispel Tribe of Indians reached an agreement with the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in July to investigate the feasibility of releasing water from the lake in late summer or early autumn in an attempt to cool the Pend Oreille River below the dam to improve habitat for bull trout, westslope cutthroat trout and other cold-water fish species.
“Warm water to a trout species is basically a death sentence,” said Craig Brengle, natural resources manager at the corps’ Albeni Falls Dam.
The corps is conducting a three-phase evaluation of whether water from the lake will even be effective in reducing temperatures below the dam.
The proposal involves the release water after Labor Day, although officials from the corps and the tribe aren’t ruling out the possibility of a release prior to the holiday.
“We don’t have a timeline figured out yet,” said Brengle.
Four operational scenarios will be modeled, according to the memorandum of agreement between the tribe and the feds. They include drafting 2 1/2 to 4 1/2 feet from the lake after Labor Day. One modeling scenario involves drafting 4 1/2 feet from the lake starting Aug. 15.
The proposal is being greeted warily in Bonner County and some are against the prospect of a lower lake level while the boating season is still under way.
Waterfront landowners fear that their docks would be rendered useless and their property values would be diminished. Public boat launches could be left high and dry, which could hamper tourism.
Todd Sudick said officials from Bonner and Kootenai counties should have been brought into earlier discussions. The basin commission, which advises the state on water quantity and quality issues, has only recently been brought into the discussion.
Sudick insisted that an economic impact study be done to assess the effect the plan would have on the community.
“That needs to be done,” said Sudick, a member of Bonner County’s Waterways Advisory Board.
Ray Entz, the tribe’s director of wildlife, emphasized that the proposal in its very early stages.
“Don’t take away from this meeting that something is going to happen tomorrow because that’s not the case,” said Entz.
Entz said the tribe chose a collaborative approach to sorting through the issue to avoid the possibility of litigation and potentially dictatorial court ruling that ends up benefiting no one.
“We don’t want to go there,” said Entz.
But the commission has bristled that it wasn’t brought into the discussion sooner.
“We just hope that we could be part of the process,” said basin Commissioner Linda Mitchell.