|9/23/2012 9:39:00 AM|
PUD customers don't want higher rates for higher lake levels
|In other matters Monday:|
|* Commissioners held a public hearing and adopted an advisory opinion issued by the state Department of Commerce that supports the PUD's inclusion of certain hydropower as a qualified renewable for purposes of meeting targets of the Energy Independence Act, I-937. The qualifying hydropower comes from upgrades made to turbines and generators at PUD dams that have increased production efficiency and from savings in spilled water by improving downstream fish passage through construction of the juvenile fish bypass at Rocky Reach Dam.|
* PUD staff presented their next steps for creating Shoreline Management Plans for its two Columbia River reservoirs behind Rock Island Dam and Rocky Reach Dam. Having shoreline management plans, considered a best practice by most other utilities with hydropower reservoirs, will help ensure that shoreline management decisions are consistent with license requirements, resource management plans and project purposes while balancing local economic interests and protecting the environment.
* Commissioners tied 2-2 on a vote and thereby failed to authorize the PUD general manager to sign a five-year lease agreement with the Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce for use of an office building owned by the PUD in Chelan. The issue will be revisited when Commissioner Randy Smith returns at a future meeting.
* Staff presented an update on impacts from the Chelan County wildfires. With advance action by employees to protect poles and other infrastructure, the PUD experienced only one small brief power outage from a fire along Highway 97A and a one-day disruption in fiber-optic video service to customers in the Chelan-Manson areas, due to the same fire.
* Commissioners heard that more than two dozen kayakers and, for the first time, several rafters successfully navigated the Chelan River Gorge on Saturday and Sunday during the one weekend now required for whitewater boating access on that stretch of river. There were 26 boaters on Saturday and 24 on Sunday.
The next regular commission meeting is at 10 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 1, in the PUD boardroom at 327 N. Wenatchee Ave. Commissioners also set special meetings for the following times:
* 9 a.m. to noon, Oct. 2, for a board workshop at the North Central Regional Library headquarters, 16 N. Columbia, Wenatchee
* 6:30 p.m., Oct. 4, Entiat School Cafeteria, Entiat, for the purpose of providing a community update on reconstruction of Entiat Park and construction of a new transmission line and switchyard serving the Entiat Valley
* 1 p.m., Oct. 9, at the PUD Board room, Wenatchee, for the purpose of meeting with the Tri-Commission (Chelan County, PUD and Port District) to discuss common interests and activities
* 5:30 p.m., Oct. 9, at Campbell's Resort, Chelan, for a community meeting to discuss results of the telephone survey on lake levels and to discuss PUD research into possible options for changes in lake level management
LAKE CHELAN -- Despite Save Lake Chelan's threat of a civil suit against the PUD, customers say they do not want to pay more in electric fees to keep Lake Chelan's water level higher over a longer period of time.
Seattle-based research firm Strategies 360 conducted a phone poll of customers in June and presented the findings Sept. 17 to Chelan County's Public Utilities District commissioners.
The survey asked the opinions of 601 randomly selected PUD customers, half of them from the Lake Chelan area and half from the rest of the county, according to a PUD press release.
Other findings included:
Nearly half of the PUD's customer base says neither spring nor fall water levels at Lake Chelan are important to them
* A small minority (primarily lake area residents and waterfront property owners) voiced strong but split preferences regarding water levels
* Customers who want higher levels in the spring also want higher levels in the fall
* When forced to choose between spring and fall, there was a slight preference among all customers for fall, but spring was preferred strongly by waterfront property owners
Results of the survey and the original questions are available on the PUD website.
PUD commissioners will host a community discussion regarding water levels and other lake issues during at 5:30 p.m., Oct. 9 at the Chelan office.
Water from the lake also feeds the Chelan River, and year-round flows must be maintained in the river for fish protection and habitat according to terms of the federal license.
Chelan PUD managers and commissioners have been meeting with people in the Lake Chelan area and with agencies who participated in developing the new federal operating license for the project that was approved in 2006, according to the press release. It changed the way lake levels were managed by attempting to raise the lake slightly earlier in the spring and draw it down slightly faster in the fall after Labor Day.
The PUD generates electricity from a powerhouse fed by water from Lake Chelan. Changes in lake level management could impact the quantity of water available for generation at various times of the year and therefore potentially affect annual PUD revenues, which are used to hold down electric rates for all customers, PUD officials say.
In 2011, the PUD delayed refilling the lake due to an abnormally high snowpack and late runoff conditions in order to have enough room to accommodate the larger runoff and avoid potential flooding.
As a result, in the past year, some community residents in the Chelan-Manson area complained that the lake was too low for too long, especially in 2011, and they have asked the PUD to raise the lake earlier in the spring and hold it higher in the fall to accommodate property owners and recreation visitors. The PUD has been studying a range of alternatives to determine the potential impacts on natural resources, recreation, tourism, erosion and power generation revenues.
But members of the recently formed Save Lake Chelan group members believe regulation of Lake Chelan water levels in 2011 hurt residents and businesses and want to hold the PUD accountable -- even if it means a lawsuit.
Organizers believe the 2011 water level exposed dangerous and unsightly debris, compromising lake transportation and restricted water supply to certain up-lake properties.
"We took it upon ourselves to get to the bottom of the problem," said a letter sent to potential Save Lake Chelan donors. "We engaged legal counsel and obtained a host of records from the PUD through public disclosure requests. We engaged a qualified, independent engineering company to analyze those records and determine whether the PUD had to hold the lake level down for safety reasons as they explained."
The letter is signed by Art Campbell, President of Campbell's Resort, Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce Director and Chelan City Council member Mike Steele, Lake Chelan Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors President Maribeth Clark and area resident Dave Zuluaga.
The group members said their private engineer assured them that bringing lake levels up on schedule after high snowpack winters is still safe.
"The cost to the PUD is not compromised safety...just the potential loss of a couple months of generation from the Lake Chelan Dam, estimated at $1.6 million by our engineer," the letter reads.
Some community members are happy to see the group looking out for the area.
"Bravo to the 'Save Lake Chelan' folks," said avid boater and Chelan resident Russ Jones. "Chelan does not host a natural fishery at this point largely due to past agency mismanagement and manipulating the level to support a non-native recreational fishery over all other uses is not justified. The PUD needs to stand up to National Marine Fisheries Service and the other agencies."
Steele said the Chamber's mission is to be an advocate for Lake Chelan Valley business.
"The lake levels play a large part in the consumer's perception of the Lake Chelan experience. When the lake level is slow (to rise) in the spring and lowered too soon in the fall, it is like putting up a 'closed for business' sign in the window," Steele said.
Save Lake Chelan is actively soliciting donations. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Further information about the lake level discussions is available on a section of the PUD website, and further public comment is invited by email at email@example.com.
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