Survey on Lake Chelan levels shows reluctance to change if it would increase electric bills

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September 18, 2012
(Lake Chelan, WA) A majority of PUD customers throughout Chelan County do not want to pay for higher Lake Chelan water levels.

That conclusion was among results from a telephone survey conducted in June that were presented to Chelan County PUD commissioners Monday by the Seattle-based research firm Strategies 360. 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. 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.

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 or so, some community residents in the Chelan-Manson area have 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.

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. In addition to the conclusion that most customers don’t want to pay for higher lake levels, other conclusions as stated by the survey consultants 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 and staff will be returning to the Lake Chelan community Oct. 9 for further discussion about the survey results and about possible operational changes that have been analyzed for costs and other impacts. 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.

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 protected].

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.
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