Flathead Lake dam operator ignores calls for action
Water flows over the SKQ Dam at Polson on Wednesday, June 15. (Rob Zolman/Lake County Leader)
| February 11, 2024 12:00 AM
In the summer of 2023, Flathead Lake was over a foot low on the Fourth of July. Everyone knew there was a problem that soon turned into a disaster.
In 2024 and any year ahead could be a repeat or worse if Energy Keepers, Inc., the entity that runs the SKQ Dam, does not implement a Drought Management Plan as required by their license and a proposed law.
Congressman Ryan Zinke’s proposed “Fill the Lake Act” will provide the critical mandate to maintain the lake elevation during the 90-day recreation season.
Without clear guidelines, we’ll have no protection from erroneous forecasts, human error, bad judgment and mismanagement. Adoption and compliance with the bill will ensure Energy Keepers will have to protect fish and wildlife, energy generation, recreation, farming and livestock, lifestyles, the state and local economy, as well as lakeshore property and docks.
National Organization to Save Flathead Lake is a 501 C4 nonprofit organization established in 1985 to address serious issues with Flathead Lake and continues to represent thousands of concerned citizens. The organization is a non-political entity and should not be confused with any other organizations with similar names.
In addition to pressing our elected officials to do all they can to avoid another disaster, NOSFL filed a petition with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asking them to enforce the license and compel Energy Keepers to enact a Drought Management Plan.
FACT: Flathead Lake is a lake and not a reservoir. However, the dam allows for the management of the top 10 feet of water but requires the lake to be at full pool between mid-June and September.
FACT: 2023 was a drought in the region. Unless substantially more snowpack is accumulated in 2024, lake water levels could be even far worse unless Energy Keepers competently manages the situation. The FERC license demands action, and so does the Fill the Lake Act if passed by Congress.
FACT: It is the responsibility of the FERC licensee (Energy Keepers) to ensure a Drought Management Plan is in place (Article 60 of the license). The 2023 disaster could have been avoided had Energy Keepers followed the Drought Management Plan that has existed since 2010. Inexplicably, they did not and still haven’t. The lake would have been as much as 3.5 feet higher all summer, avoiding the disaster.
FACT: Releasing water for electrical generation for the financial benefit of the tribe is not Energy Keepers’ only obligation. The licensee has an obligation (Article 12 of the license) to operate the Dam in a manner “for the protection of life, health, and property, and in the interest of the fullest practicable conservation and utilization of such waters for power purposes and for other beneficial public uses, including recreational purposes….”
CONCLUSIONS: At no time is the licensee allowed to operate the dam with disregard in favor of one obligation at a cost to another. Energy Keepers’s operation of the dam has been woefully inadequate, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars of damage to all concerned. Instead, they fail to acknowledge and continue to ignore calls for action.
The National Organization to Save Flathead Lake based in based in Bigfork.
[Editor’s Note: The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Monday dismissed allegations that Energy Keepers, Inc., mismanaged Flathead Lake’s SKQ Dam last summer. The National Organization to Save Flathead Lake filed a petition last year seeking the commission’s review.]