The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates Albeni Falls Dam to meet multiple purposes, such as flood risk reduction, power generation, navigation, recreation and fish and wildlife conservation. The dam is made up of two different parts: the powerhouse and the spillway. The powerhouse contains three Kaplan turbines and generators that convert gravity-driven river water into enough hydroelectricity to generate up to 42.6 megawatts - enough power to supply about 15,000 homes. Bonneville Power Administration markets this electricity to customers primarily in the Pacific Northwest. This power production saves the United States from buying about 4.9 million barrels of imported oil each year. The spillway and powerhouse are used to manage the storage in Lake Pend Oreille to meet the multiple purposes of Albeni Falls Dam.
Located in Oldtown, Idaho, Albeni Falls Dam is part of the Columbia River system. Water released from the dam passes through federal and non-federal hydroelectric projects on the Columbia and Pend Oreille Rivers.
The Corps also administers nine recreation areas as part of Albeni Falls Dam, including four developed campgrounds/day-use areas, two day-use only areas, and three primitive access areas. Albeni Cove, Priest River, Riley Creek, and Springy Point have developed campsites (no hookups, except at Riley Creek) with a variety of day-use facilities. The Visitor Center and Trestle Creek are day-use areas only. Morton Slough, Johnson Creek and the Driftyard (managed by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game) offer primitive camping and boat launch facilities.
Dam construction began at the falls in 1951 with the dam operational for flood control for Lake Pend Oreille in 1952. Power production went on-line in 1955.
Flood Risk Reduction: Prior to dam construction, the natural falls located at the current site of the dam restricted flow of the river. During high spring runoff periods, this narrow channel was unable to rapidly pass the large flows of water and thereby contributing to flooding upstream along the river and the lake. Construction of the dam enlarged the size of the channel at this location, allowing more water to pass through and reducing, but not eliminating the risk of upstream flooding. Under certain conditions, operations at Albeni Falls Dam may also reduce flood risk downstream on the Pend Oreille and Columbia, by temporarily impounding the spring flow until flood risk below has subsided.
Hydropower Generation: As part of the Federal Columbia River Power System (FCRPS), hydropower generated at Albeni Falls Dam contributes to the total generation of FCRPS providing an adequate, safe, efficient and reliable power supply to the region. Water released from Albeni Falls Dam passes through 15 downstream federal and non-federal hydroelectric projects on the Columbia and Pend Oreille Rivers.
Recreation and Navigation: Before construction, the natural lake level was elevated annually for only a few weeks during the spring snowmelt period. The natural lake level would then drop to near elevation 2048 feet by August, about 15 feet below 2062.5 feet, the peak regulated summertime lake level. The current regulation of the top 11.5 feet of Lake Pend Oreille holds the lake between 2062 – 2062.5 feet through mid-September providing increased opportunity for safe navigation and water recreation.
Fish and Wildlife Conservation: Project lands throughout our ownership were specifically set aside for fish and wildlife conservation; and these lands are currently managed by IDFG under license from the Corps. The dam is also regulated throughout the year in consideration of fish and wildlife species.
Albeni Falls Dams Facts and Figures
Original Construction cost $31,949,360; annual Operation and Maintenance costs is $9.26 million.
Albeni Falls Dam is significantly funded by Bonneville Power Administration (98 percent) and by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers annual appropriations for O&M activities related to hydropower, recreation and environmental stewardship. In addition, BPA funds large capital projects such as a spillway and powerhouse crane renovation and spillway gate modifications. BPA also funds the fish and wildlife mitigation efforts and the repayment to the treasury for the initial investment in the dam.
Albeni Falls Dam Benefits
Power production and revenue:
- Megawatt-Hours generated by Albeni Falls Dam vary by water year. In Fiscal Year 2019 Albeni Falls Dam generated – 184 GWh with an estimated market value of $6.692 million (using historical monthly market prices.)
- For every Megawatt-hour produced at site, approximately 60 megawatt-hours are produced downstream at Federal projects. The bulk of this power is used to meet regional power demand. During periods of surplus, excess power is sold on the market to keep rates low.
- Recreation economic benefits to local economy: $9,254,309 in visitor spending within 30 miles of the Corps lake in 2016.
Visitation - In fiscal year 2018 Albeni Falls Dam hosted 437,341 visitors.
The visitor center has an exhibit area and a staffed information desk. Information focuses on the project and its functions in a regional context. Free, walk-in dam tours are available from Memorial Day to Labor Day but visitors are encouraged to check with the visitor center for hours of availability.