The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a joint decision by the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers authorizing "flexible winter power operations" at Albeni Falls Dam. The court’s ruling came despite the Idaho Conservation League’s challenge of the decision in federal court due to concerns over environmental impacts.
Albeni Falls Dam is a multipurpose dam that adds approximately 11 vertical feet of storage to Lake Pend Oreille. Prior to the adoption of the flexible winter power operations plan (FWPO), water levels in Lake Pend Oreille were drawn down and held static all winter.
Under FWPO, the BPA and the Corps may fluctuate the lake level by as much as five feet during the winter. The purpose of FWPO is to more efficiently use the available water storage capabilities at Albeni Falls Dam for power generation both at Albeni Falls and at hydropower facilities downstream, primarily Grand Coulee.
Represented by Bryan Hurlbutt of Advocates for the West, ICL challenged the 2011 plan due to concerns that FWPO would exacerbate erosion and the spread of aquatic invasive species. ICL argued that these concerns were not adequately vetted in the environmental assessment that was prepared as part of the process to approve FWPO.
Unfortunately, the 9th Circuit ruled that FWPO was within the existing authority of the BPA and the Corps. Although ICL is disappointed by the loss, we will continue to work to improve water quality in Lake Pend Oreille, reduce shoreline erosion, and combat aquatic invasive species.
As provided by the Pacific Northwest Electric Power Planning and Conservation Act, the BPA is obligated to mitigate for the construction and operation of Albeni Falls Dam. Mitigation for the construction of the dam consists of placing wildlife habitat into conservation easements in order to "offset" the loss of habitats that existed before the dam inundated them. Operational mitigation consists of measures to combat erosion, the spread of aquatic invasive species, and other environmental effects associated with the dam.
Although Albeni Falls Dam was constructed in 1955, the BPA has only completed about half of the requisite mitigation required by law.