Libby Dam will continue VARQ for 2008
Flooding in 1948 inundated Libby. This photo is looking east showing the Libby train depot, tracks and parking area under water. Mineral Avenue is to the right, the Kootenai River just to the left. Picture part of an exhibit at the Libby Dam Visitor Center. Photo part of a collection in the Heritage Museum in Libby.
Upper Columbia Alternative Flood Control and Fish Operations
February 10, 2008
The Corps of Engineers will continue to operate Libby Dam in strict accordance with the VARQ (variable discharge, or "variable Q") Operating Procedures for 2008, according to a decision of Determination and Finding made in December 2007 by Steven R. Miles of the Northwestern Division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The decision is for the 2008 operating year only and does not reflect a long-term decision or direction for future operations.
Libby Dam is one of 14 Federal Columbia River Power System Projects. It is located on the Kootenai River, 17 miles upstream from the town of Libby. It holds back a 90-mile long reservoir, Lake Koocanusa, which is partly in the United States and in Canada. The dam is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for system and local flood control, hydropower generation, navigation, recreation and fish and wildlife.
The variable flows are done to more closely mimic what the river flows would be under natural conditions, without the presence of the dam. Those natural flows have been determined to be important for fish populations and their critical habitat needs. Flow augmentation is being done to comply with the Biological Opinions (known as BiOps) from the NOAA Fisheries and the USFWS on operation of Federal dams and reservoirs in the Columbia River Basin to prevent jeopardy to populations of sturgeon, bull trout, salmon and steelhead stocks which are listed as threatened or endangered.
In May and June of 2006, a flood event affected areas downstream of Libby Dam. After that event, the Corps prepared a report addressing issues and concerns arising from that event. “The Corps is addressing available information to prepare a long-term decision on operation using the VARQ FC procedure, but has not yet completed that process,” Miles said in his decision. “Therefore, I am making this decision for the 2008 flood control operation at Libby Dam based on the best information available at this time, including consideration of local and system flood damage reduction, ability to provide flows for threatened and endangered species, the findings in the AAR, and applicable laws and regulations. One of my primary considerations has been minimizing the risk to human life and safety while meeting other project purposes and responsibilities.”
The Corps plans to continue operating Libby Dam to the extent practicable, to avoid exceeding Kootenai River flood stage elevation 1764 feet msl, as measured at Bonners Ferry, Idaho, and will also provide flows for sturgeon.
“It is my determination that implementing VARQ flood control operation according to the operating procedures, and providing fish flows at Libby Dam in 2008 is in the public interest,” Miles wrote in his decision.
“I acknowledge, and it is important for the public to understand this as well, that in any given year there is a risk of high water events, including flooding and spill, when operating in accordance with either Standard of VARQ flood control procedures. To address this risk, the Corps will implement VARQ FC with strict adherence to the operating procedures as was done in 2007m and will not consider or implement any deviations from the VARQ operating procedures in 2008 that would cause the reservoir to be above the rule curve or reduce outflow below the prescribed VARQ outflow, except for short-term deviations when necessary to protect human life and safety and/or to comply with the IJC Order. The likelihood of achieving reservoir refill, and consequently the volume available for summer fish flows, will be reduced compared to some previous years because of strict adherence to VARQ operating procedures. I find this to be an acceptable tradeoff given the importance of flood damage reduction,” Miles wrote.
The Corps coordinates closely with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, the states of Montana and Idaho and local governments as part of their implementation.