Who is responsible for managing the lake elevation on Lake Chelan?
The Lake Chelan Hydroelectric Project is owned and operated by Chelan County Public Utility District and regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC Project No. 637) under a 50-year license issued November 6, 2006. The Chelan County PUD is responsible to operate and manage lake levels under the terms of its license, which include lake level management practices stipulated in the Lake Level Plan and Operations Compliance Monitoring Plan (FERC License Article 405). Natural fluctuations in lake elevation occur as a result of runoff in the tributaries. The license requirements are discussed in more detail below.
How many licenses have been issued for the Lake Chelan Hydroelectric Project?
Three. The Lake Chelan Hydroelectric Project was first constructed during the early 1920s and operated under a 50-year license, issued by the Federal Power Commission (now Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) in 1926 (effective 1924). The second license for the Project was granted in 1981, and made retroactive to 1974. The third license was granted on Nov. 6, 2006, for a period of 50 years.
Have the lake level requirements changed over time?
Yes. Since 1926, the lake has been required by license to operate between a maximum surface elevation of 1,100 feet and a minimum surface elevation of 1,079 feet. The second license, issued in 1981, included a provision that Chelan County PUD make every reasonable effort to maintain the reservoir at or above elevation 1,098 from June 30 through September 30 each year; a flexibility afforded by the removal of high flow restrictions down the Chelan River. This provision changed with the issuance of the third license on Nov. 6, 2006, which requires Chelan County PUD to make every reasonable effort to comply with seven operating objectives and seek to achieve May through October minimum target elevations, to the extent consistent with the objectives.
Why does the water level change?
Lake levels rise and fall naturally with seasonal changes due to the runoff in the tributaries and rainfall. The elevation of Lake Chelan is lower every fall and winter to make room for spring runoff from mountain snowpack. The lake fills each spring at varying rates, depending on weather, snowpack and other conditions.
Could the PUD guarantee lake level elevations?
No. Lake elevations cannot be guaranteed because there are many influences that can change rapidly. Flexibility for managing the lake is needed to address many factors, including precipitation, temperature, snowpack conditions, the amount and timing of spring runoff, and meeting requirements within the hydro project’s federal operating license. The Lake Level Plan contains target minimum elevations for the months May through October and operational guidelines for early, average and late runoff conditions to help provide flexibility for managing the many, sometimes conflicting, recreation, environmental and generation objectives.
What are the operating requirements in the federal License?
Lake levels are managed to reach a balance between seven operating objectives and minimum target elevations contained in the operating License (listed below). According to the federal hydro project license, Chelan PUD is required to make every reasonable effort to comply with these seven objectives:
- Maintaining minimum flows in the Chelan River (this objective has priority over lake levels);
- Reducing high flows in the Chelan River (this objective has priority over lake levels);
- Satisfying regulatory requirements for flood control (adjusting lake level);
- Providing usable lake levels for recreation (which varies between elevation 1,090 and 1,098 ft., depending on the slope of the shoreline and boat dock configurations);
- Reduce shoreline erosion;
- Preventing fish passage blockages (due to tributary barriers); and
- Minimizing the effect of refill on attainment of flow objectives for salmon in the mainstem Columbia River.
Additionally, the license requirement states that Chelan PUD shall seek to achieve, to the extent consistent with the operating objectives above, the following target elevations:
What is the definition of full lake or full pool?
Since the first license was issued in the early 1920s, full pool has been defined by the Project License as 1,098 feet. The project maximum elevation is 1,100 feet and the minimum drawdown elevation is 1,079 feet.
What is the definition of “usable lake level for recreation”?
Useable recreation has various definitions depending on activity and location. The new license requires “providing usable lake levels for recreation, which varies between elevation 1,090 and 1,098 feet depending on the slope of the shoreline and boat dock configurations.” Most fixed docks on Lake Chelan are generally useable around 1,098 feet and can vary depending on the type of structure and where people are located on the shoreline. Public boat docks and boat ramps are available for public use around the lake, and conditions differ at each launch depending on location. A listing showing respective elevations at the end of the ramps can be found at www.chelanpud.org
to help people determine which launches are usable at various lake levels.
Is the PUD out of compliance with the License if target elevations are not met?
No. The May-through-October lake level elevations listed in the Lake Level Plan are targets, which may or may not occur based on weather conditions. Chelan County PUD is required to try to obtain the target elevations to the extent consistent with meeting the seven lake level objectives.
How were target elevations developed, and who agreed to them?
The target elevations were negotiated by the public, by local, state, and federal agencies, by tribes and others during the Lake Chelan Project relicensing process (1998-2003) to balance the many different and sometimes conflicting interests related to lake operations. Agreements and management plans regarding lake level, recreation, erosion, fish, wildlife, cultural and other resources during relicensing were captured in a Comprehensive Settlement Agreement submitted to FERC on Oct. 8, 2003. It was evident during relicensing that there was no lake level regime that would satisfy recreation, environmental and cultural interests. Subsequently, a compromise approach was agreed upon whereby in years with early to average runoff, Chelan PUD would make every effort to raise the lake higher in May and June (than in the previous licenses) to improve tourism during the spring shoulder season and draw the lake down sooner during the fall (eight-tenths of a foot during September) to reduce shoreline erosion and the presence of tributary barriers. Tributary barriers (built up by silt which is not naturally scoured out if lake level is kept high) have been shown to be the biggest negative impact to Westslope cutthroat trout, a native trout species in the lake.
Can target elevations be changed in the license?
Yes, but it requires formal steps that often take quite a bit of time and consultation with many agencies. Typically, a change to a license condition is completed by license amendment request submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Depending on the impacts of the change, a license amendment to change a target elevation may include an environmental review and would require approval by all parties who signed the original Settlement Agreement. This includes review and approval of federal and state agencies, who, under the Federal Power Act (FPA, sections 4e and 10j), have the ability to require conditions in the license to adequately protect and ensure utilization of lands owned by the United States (e.g. national forest, tribal lands), and/or provide recommendations to protect, mitigate, or enhance fish and wildlife affected by the operation and management of the hydroelectric project. Per section 10(a)(1) of the FPA, the FERC must be satisfied that the project is adapted as well as possible to a comprehensive plan for developing the waterway.
What about residences on the lake whose docks become unusable below 1,099 feet?
We recognize there are different impacts on property owners that they will need to respond to individually. The comprehensive agreement on lake levels was achieved after many meetings and discussion. Due to many competing interests and proposals, the spring and fall target elevations that are included in the lake level plan were ultimately agreed to by compromise of the public and agencies that participated in the relicensing process. Boat dock and recreation use was studied heavily during the Lake Chelan Project relicensing process from 1999 to 2003, and lake level concerns were voiced clearly. Two primary citizen groups from Chelan were at the negotiating table during lake level discussions. Hundreds of meetings were held, surveys were conducted, and many lake level targets and operating regimes were discussed and explored. Federal and state agencies came with differing issues and mandates. At the end of nearly five years of discussion, an agreed upon settlement was reached and approved by all parties, including local citizens negotiating on behalf of Chelan property owners and businesses. The May-through-October target elevations in use today are a result of those negotiations.
Why is there an effort to have the lake higher in the May when the weather and water are cold?
That was the stated preference by parties at the time relicensing studies were done. During the relicensing effort a socioeconomic study (completed in January 2000) analyzed impacts of lake levels on recreation and economics. That study report is available here
or by contacting Chelan PUD for a hard copy. Section 8.2 of the Socioeconomic Report evaluates and quantifies the impact of the proposed changes in lake levels. An excerpt from that report states:
“220.127.116.11 Summary Conclusions: May represents approximately 7.9% of annual revenues in the Lake Chelan area and in Penticton. All other comparable locations experience between 8.8% and 10.0% of their annual revenues in May. The average May returns across all of these comparable areas is 8.9% of annual revenues, which is 1.1% greater than in the Lake Chelan area. This comparison indicates that the Lake Chelan area could experience an increase in May of 1.1% of annual revenues.”
If the September drawdown target date is extended, will that allow enough time for scouring of the tributaries?
That depends on runoff and weather conditions each year. Target elevations (May through October) were established using a 44-year period of record (1952-1995). This information was used by Chelan PUD, community stakeholders, and the agencies to predict conditions and minimum elevations necessary to meet intended objectives. The September 7 target elevation is based on the probability of being able to reach the October and November elevations to reduce erosion, prevent barriers from forming at the tributary mouths and keep spill in the Chelan River below 6,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). Target elevations are flexible to help ensure license objectives can be achieved. Consequently, how long the lake can be held at or above the September 7 target elevation depends on runoff and weather conditions and the ability to manage those conditions in order to meet the license objectives.
Does whitewater boating affect lake level management?
Not significantly especially given recent changes to decrease the number of weekends. Generally, whitewater boating flows are quite low (about 400 cfs or 320 cfs if you include the existing 80 cfs year-round flow) and have minimal impact on lake levels. Potential effects of the whitewater boating program on lake level management depend on the following factors: 1) If water in excess of generation is spilled at the dam for other purposes (e.g. lake level management during snow runoff), that water can accommodate the whitewater boating flow without additional impact to lake level management and power generation; 2) If water is spilled only for the purpose of the whitewater boating program, then that water (about 320 cfs) must be spilled from the lake, potentially affecting lake level, and is not used for generation, resulting in lost revenue.
What is the future for the whitewater boating program?
License required a three-year study (2009-2011) of whitewater boating in the Chelan River to evaluate the level of demand, boating criteria, flows, reservation system requirements, and schedule for a future program. Results of that study have been analyzed by Chelan PUD staff and American Whitewater to develop a recommendation for a future whitewater boating program. The revised whitewater boating plan was submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on May 1, 2012. The FERC approved the revised plan on July 16, 2012. This plan recommended whitewater boating events be reduced from four weekends per year to one weekend per year to be held on the third weekend in September and that the program be re-evaluated every 3 years.
Of the District’s three hydroelectric projects, what percentage of the generation comes from the Lake Chelan Hydroelectric Project?
Approximately 5% of Chelan PUD’s total generation each year is from the Lake Chelan Project. Generally, the Rocky Reach Dam generates about 5.1 million megawatt hours of power; Lake Chelan 396,466 megawatt hours, and Rock Island 2.2 million megawatt hours. Therefore, approximately 5% of Chelan PUD’s total generation is from the Lake Chelan Project.
Can the Chelan Dam be modified to allow greater volumes of spill?
Limited spill volumes are not a constraint of the dam. The constraints are contained within Chelan PUD’s License and 401 Water Quality Certification to encourage establishment of a functioning river ecosystem in the entire Chelan River.
Can new fish habitat developed in the lower Chelan River withstand flows of 6,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) or more?
Much depends on how long those flows would last. It is important to recognize that reducing the occurrence of high flows in the Chelan River (to levels below 6,000 cfs) is an objective of the Lake Level Management Plan and extends to the entire Chelan River, not just the lower reach. The new stream channel (in the lower Reach 4) is designed so that a majority of the flow goes around it and into an overflow channel at levels approaching 6,000 cfs. A weir constructed at the head of the new stream channel and fish habitat area will accept the desired flows of about 320 cfs. This weir, stream channel, and overflow channel design were completed with direction from the fishery agencies to satisfy ESA biological requirements of the Chelan River Fishery Plan and 401 Water Quality Certification. The new stream channel was completed in 2009 and is becoming stronger each year as vegetation and the stream mature. Current estimates indicate flows in excess of 6,000 cfs, if large enough to exceed the overflow channel, would damage the stream channel.
Can flows in excess of 6,000 cfs be redirected around the Chelan River at the dam?
This would be a significant undertaking. A License amendment, feasibility studies, and significant capital improvements (i.e., new penstock/tunnel) would be required to bypass flows at the dam to an area that would not impact the Reach 4 habitat improvement area.
Who should customers contact about questions related to removing sand and vegetation that has accumulated in front of their shoreline property?
Customers should contact Chelan County to inquire about sand and vegetation removal in front of their shoreline property.
Contact: Mike Kaputa
Director, Chelan County Natural Resource Department
316 Washington Street, Suite 401
Wenatchee, WA 98801
Cell: (509) 670-6935
Fax: (509) 667-6527
Who can I contact if I have questions related to lake levels?
Phone: (509) 663-8121
Toll-free: (888) 663-8121
Hearing impaired TTY: (509) 661-4621
Scott Buehn (509) 661-4828, firstname.lastname@example.org
Michelle Smith (509) 661-4180 email@example.com
What are some additional resources related to lake levels?
For current information, including daily lake levels:
For information regarding the Lake Chelan Project License and Lake Level Plan:
For information related to the relicensing process: