Years ago, I spent a few summers boating the St. Joe River and lower part of Coeur d’Alene Lake, which includes Chatcolet, Round, Benewah and Hidden Lakes. In fact, I learned to water-ski on the St. Joe, known for its glass-smooth surface and calm waters. In those days I didn’t give much thought to the river banks – beyond wondering where exactly the river ends and the lake begins.
Last week, I had the enlightening experience of seeing first-hand some of the long-term impacts of hydroelectricity, boating and other uses of the lake and river, when I joined a group touring a two-year shoreline erosion inventory and assessment on the St. Joe River where it flows through this lower portion of Coeur d’Alene Lake.
Avista and the Coeur d’Alene tribe are working together on this erosion study, one of the first of three major phases in our erosion measures within the Tribal waters of Coeur d’Alene Lake, and a condition of Avista’s 50-year FERC license to operate its Spokane River hydroelectric project. The study is also part of the comprehensive settlement reached between Avista and the Coeur d’Alene tribe prior to last year’s issuance of the license. In addition to compensating the Tribe for past and future storage of water, the settlement requires Avista to pay a total of $100 million into the Coeur d’Alene resource protection trust fund for costs associated with environmental measures in and around Coeur d’Alene Lake. This funding mechanism allows the Tribe and Avista to collaborate on complying with license requirements, which include this shoreline erosion control project, as well as activities in wetland restoration, water quality monitoring, aquatic weed management and protection of cultural resources on the reservation.
Dave Lamb of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Bruce Stoker of Earth Systems, consultants to Avista on the erosion inventory and assessment, showed a group including Avista’s Meghan Lunney, Becky Kramer from the Spokesman-Review and myself just how much the banks of this part of the St. Joe have eroded over the years, primarily due to the wave action caused by boats in high water. Bruce Gardipie, a member of the Kootenai, Salish and Confederated Tribes of Montana, who has lived on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation for 40 years, was our boat operator, and provided additional expertise.
I never even knew where the actual channel of the St. Joe ran, let alone that recreationists like myself could potentially contribute to its erosion. It was an eye-opener, and a good learning experience.
Now that the Spokane River FERC license has been issued, it’s great to see the work beginning, and it’s even better to see years of planning resulting in people working together to protect and improve the environment. This is just one of the many protection, mitigation and enhancement measures that we will implement in collaboration with the Tribe as part of our license and our ongoing commitment to protect natural resources associated with our hydroelectric projects.