New winter operational flexibility at Albeni Falls Dam will benefit power users

Published Nov. 4, 2011

Portland, Ore. -- Increased operational flexibility at Albeni Falls Dam in Bonner County, Idaho will provide opportunity to optimize winter power generation to meet the needs of Pacific Northwest electricity consumers.

An environmental assessment evaluating the potential effects of more flexible winter operations, initially proposed by the Bonneville Power Administration, was signed today by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Seattle District, and BPA. Completion of the Albeni Falls environmental assessment allows the Corps to support requests made by BPA to store water for power during the winter months under certain conditions.

The new winter operational flexibility will allow the Corps to store water in Lake Pend Oreille in the winter within existing project operating limits, subject to weather and fish protection conditions. The Corps would then release the water days or weeks later for power generation when it is more valuable to the region, such as when a cold snap drives up energy demand or during a power plant outage.

Locally, this operation could mean an occasional slow rise or fall of Lake Pend Oreille of no more than 6 inches a day for a total of up to 5 feet. Previous winter operations at Albeni Falls Dam generally limited lake level fluctuations within a one-foot operating range.

The new winter operations will improve BPA's ability to efficiently and cost effectively manage the Federal Columbia River Power System, of which Albeni Falls Dam is a part, said Greg Delwiche, BPA senior vice president for Power Services.  Specifically, the new winter operations will increase our ability to react quickly to local or regional cold weather events or wintertime power emergencies.

The winter operating period begins at the end of kokanee spawning, usually mid to late December and runs through March 31. The annual minimum winter lake level for kokanee spawning protection each winter is generally set at either 2,051 feet or 2,055 feet above sea level. Under the new operation, once kokanee spawning is completed, the lake could vary between each year's minimum lake level (this year at 2051 feet) and 2,056 feet. The Corps will continue to manage the lake level with the intent of protecting kokanee redds -- nests of kokanee eggs found along the Lake Pend Oreille shoreline.

The Corps operates the Albeni Falls Dam for the purposes of flood risk management, power generation, navigation, recreation, and fish and wildlife conservation. These benefits come largely from Northwest electric ratepayers who pay about 98 percent of operation and maintenance costs at the dam.

The decision to proceed with adoption of the new flexible winter power operation at Albeni Falls Dam at this time follows two years of public outreach. The final Albeni Falls Dam, Flexible Winter Power Operations Environmental Assessment signed today concludes that there are no new significant circumstances or information related to environmental concerns of the flexible winter power operations that would require further environmental analysis.

The final environmental assessment includes responses to all public comments received during the public review period and is available at

Independent of the determination to implement the new winter operation at Albeni Falls Dam, the minimum lake level of 2,051 feet for this winter was set by the Corps after regional discussion at a Technical Management Team meeting held Sept. 28, 2011. The 2,051 foot level for this winter was recommended by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the interagency lake level meeting held Sept. 16, 2011. The TMT advises BPA, the Corps and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation on dam and reservoir operations throughout the Northwest to optimize conditions for juvenile and adult anadromous salmonids as well as resident fish such as bull trout and kokanee.

BPA is a nonprofit federal agency that markets renewable hydropower from federal Columbia River dams, operates three-quarters of high-voltage transmission lines in the Northwest and funds one of the largest wildlife protection and restoration programs in the world. BPA and its partners have also saved enough electricity through energy efficiency projects to power four large American cities. For more information, contact us at 503-230-5131 or visit our website at


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Release no. 111104