Wetland Advocates Sue Over Lake Pend Oreille Draining

By Steve Jackson

An Idaho environmental group has filed a suit to keep the Bonneville Power Administration from varying the levels of Lake Pend Oreille this winter. In an effort to generate more electricity at a downstream dam, the BPA has decided to vary the level of Lake Pend Oreille by as much as five feet, three times over the winter.

Susan Drumheller is a spokesperson for the Idaho Conservation League, who says the process will cause erosion that will threaten shorelines and wetlands in the area. She worries specifically about the Clark Fork river delta, where she says it’s believed fifteen acres a year could be eroded by the fluctuating lake levels.

Drumheller: “It’s listed as one of the top ten wetlands in the state of Idaho. And so to be losing that much in a years is disconcerting, and there are cottonwoods out there, and cottonwoods are becoming rarer in this watershed as well."

Drumheller says while the BPA did approve an environmental analysis of the impacts of the varying lake levels, her organization would prefer a full blown Environmental impact study take place, and that steps to mitigate the effects on wetlands be undertaken. She says a mitigation effort was undertaken on a similar wetland in North Idaho that would be a good remedy for wetlands lost on the lake.

Drumheller: "Idaho Fish and Game, and Ducks Unlimited, and Avista collaborated on a project in the pack river where the put in some structures, and planted native vegetation and they basically restored that delta.”

The conservation group is not the only worried abut the impact. At a public hearing on the proposal, some residents voiced concerns about impacts the process would have on their lakeshore property and docks. BPA spokesman Kevin Wingert says because the case has gone to litigation, he could not offer comment, except to say the agency is reviewing the brief.
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