Group revives lawsuit over N. Idaho lake levels

SANDPOINT, Idaho — An Idaho conservation group is pressing ahead with a federal lawsuit challenging the Bonneville Power Administration’s plan for managing winter water levels in the state’s biggest lake.

The Idaho Conservation League initially filed the lawsuit in 2012, but after months of negotiations has been unable to reach a settlement with BPA over winter pool levels and fluctuations at Lake Pend Oreille.

The ICL renewed the case recently by filing a brief with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals asking the court to force BPA scientists to do more rigorous study of its Flexible Winter Power Operations plan, according to a story published Wednesday by the Bonner County Daily Bee (http://bit.ly/1asfFfO ). That plan allows the lake pool to be fluctuated within a 5-foot range up to three times each winter to maximize power generation at the Albeni Falls Dam located on the Pend Oreille River.

ICL contends the plan, which is already in effect, speeds up shoreline erosion, destroys ecologically-rich wetlands and pollutes the lake with silt.

ICL attorneys say the BPA violated the National Environmental Policy Act by doing an Environmental Analysis instead of a more thorough Environmental Impact Statement and failing to take a required “hard look” at the proposal using up-to-date analyses.

The dam inundated and destroyed 6,000 acres of high-value wetlands when it was completed in 1957 and made the Clark Fork, Pack and Priest river deltas vulnerable to erosion.

BPA is still grappling with compensating for impacts caused by construction of the dam. The agency has yet to take up mitigating the operational impacts of the dam.

Meanwhile, erosion is chewing into the Clark Fork Delta by as much as 15 acres a year, and ICL officials believe the flexible winter operations plan exacerbates the problem.

“Water is a powerful force of erosion and manipulating Lake Pend Oreille like a yo-yo will erode shorelines, threaten wetlands and add more silt into this treasured lake,” Brad Smith of ICL said. “At the very least, we need to look before we leap, when it comes to this precious natural resource.”

A BPA spokesman declined to comment on the litigation.

“We’re currently reviewing the brief and we’ll be preparing our own response for the court,” said Kevin Wingert of BPA.

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