Event on tap for PL water projects

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An open house is being held at Priest Lake on Sept. 27 to gather input on a new breakwater and improvements at Outlet Bay Dam. (Photo courtesy IDWR/SARA K. WILLIAMS)

PRIEST LAKE — The look and feel of improvements to preserve the Thorofare and provide more flexibility at the Outlet Bay Dam will be coming into sharper focus as the Idaho Department of Water Resources embarks on the second phase of the project.

An open house to gather public comment on the proposed improvements is set for Thursday, Sept. 27 at Priest Lake Elementary School. The open house runs from 4-7 p.m.

“We really want to get feedback on the direction we’re going. We’ll present some refined concepts, but they’re not going to be completed concepts,” said Neely Miller, a senior water resource planner in the Idaho Water Resource Board’s planning and projects bureau.

The inaugural phase of the $5 million project, which was completed this year, involved a conceptual review of alternatives for replacing the breakwater at the north end of the lake and improvements at the dam to aid in lake level management, especially in drought years.

“We’re refining some of those concepts that were developed in Phase 1,” said Miller.

The conceptual study recommended temporarily raising the level of the lake 3-6 inches during the recreation season in dry years and integrating real-time streamflow data to allow for more operational flexibility. It further recommended improving the dam’s scour apron and modifying gates so they’re stronger and can be electrically operated, in addition to replacing the deteriorating breakwater with an impervious structure and dredging a portion of the Thorofare channel.

Miller said the state will also begin working permitting agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Idaho Department of Lands, Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

“We’re working with a lot of the different regulatory agencies that we’ll have to encounter for this project, for both the dam modifications and for the breakwater,” said Miller.

The state plans to begin submitting permit applications in early 2019.

“We hope that those can get worked through by next summer and then we can shift into the final engineering design,” Miller said.

Construction of the improvements are tracking toward the fall or winter of 2020.

One thing that is not part of the project is an Idaho Fish & Game proposal to install a cold-water siphon at the lake to improve fish habitat on the Priest River. The lake improvement projects and the siphon proposal are proceeding on their own distinct tracks, although there is a chance those paths could merge at a later date.

“But we’re not planning on it happening,” said Miller.

Project information: idwr.idaho.gov/IWRB/projects/priest-lake.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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