Posted July 2008

The Pend Oreille River flows not very far out of Lake Pend Oreille before passing through Albeni Falls Dam for energy creation.  Managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Army Corps). Albeni Falls Dam was constructed in 1955 and produces 200 million KW of electricity/year.  Although a log chute was included in its design, no allowances were made for migratory fish (common in that era).  In 2000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) issued a Biological Opinion that required the Army Corps to carry out a determination that reads:  “The action agencies shall evaluate the feasibility of reestablishing bull trout passage at Albeni Falls Dam.”  The Army Corps made very slow progress over the next several years.  In 2007, SCA placed a Freedom of Information Act request with the Army Corps to discover what, if any, progress had been made in the last six to seven years. Almost simultaneously, SCA made formal inquiry to the Service to find out why that agency was apparently in dereliction of its duties to ensure the Army Corps did meet its Endangered Species Act obligations under the 2000 Biological Opinion.

Without getting into cause and effect determinations, SCA is happy to report that the Army Corps is now actively evaluating the feasibility of fish passage over Albeni Falls Dam. Monthly phone conferences have been established by the Corps to disseminate project information to all stakeholders on a regular basis. A two-day workshop, held in early June of 2008, allowed all stakeholders and the Army Corps to work together on the design of fish passage structures specific for upstream and downstream passage of bull trout and west slope cutthroat trout.  The Kalispel Tribe of Indians from Usk, Washington are contracted to carry out fish movement and other studies on bull trout that are relevant to the recovery of bull trout in general and to the fish passage feasibility study at Albeni Falls Dam in particular.

Additional field trips are planned to Thompson Falls Dam in August 2008 as well as a field meeting in September at Albeni Falls Dam itself. Progress is being made. The mega-habitat for bull trout that was so dramatically degraded in the 1950s is making its first steps toward at least partial recovery.

Albeni Falls Dam Albeni Falls Dam on the Pend Oreille River. Photo: Idaho Department of Water Resources.