Alder Dam

Alder Dam

The public utility operating the Nisqually River Project dams was within its license agreement last February when staff released large amounts of water at LaGrande Dam that some suspect caused widespread flooding on the lower Nisqually River, an Oct. 14 letter from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission determined. 

The letter was in response to an inquiry made shortly after the February delta flooding by Howard Glastetter, a resident concerned with the general outline of Tacoma Public Utillity’s license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). 

Glastetter’s inquiry triggered the review of Tacoma Power’s data and handling of the situation .

Glastetter, also separately a member of the Nisqually River Council’s citizens advisory committee, originally alleged that staff acted in an unsafe manner when they allowed the incoming water flows to be raised just feet from the reservoir’s maximum capacity before substantially increasing discharge in late January and early February. 

He also recommended a change to the license to accommodate lower water levels during the winter months. But, according to FERC’s letter to Tacoma Public Utility, the operator of the project complied with its license during this timeframe. 

“The operational data demonstrated that you were in full compliance with your license,” FERC’s letter read. “We strongly encourage you to continue when possible and consistent with your license requirements to voluntarily use the available reservoir storage space to reduce flooding downstream, to the extent that your license, hydraulic conditions, and dam safety constraints allow.” 

FERC also encouraged Tacoma Power to continue to review its license requirement at its discrepancy and, if needed, amend it based on its “review and other factors experienced at a project.” 

Water levels at Alder Lake — the body of water sitting above Alder and LaGrande hydroelectric dams — are currently required to stay above 1,197 feet during the summer months and above 1,170 feet all other months. In his inquiry, Glastetter said he would like to see the license amended to require pool elevations stay below 1,197 feet — 10 feet from the maximum during the winter months and wet season. 

In his letter back to FERC Secretary Kim Bose, Glastetter wrote that he disagreed with the agency’s “narrow conclusion” of his complaint. 

“My complaint was not about compliance to the license. It was about the license itself,” he wrote, adding later: “During the rainy season there is no reasonable obligation to keep dangerously high reservoir levels. There is an abundance of water that is constantly being refreshed.” 

In an interview, Glastetter said he had been expecting that sort of judgement from FERC on license compliance. 

He said he hopes either FERC or Tacoma Power will reconsider his suggestion and take it upon themselves to revise their license to mitigate flooding risks, though he thinks little more action will come from the public utility. 

Glastetter added that it would be a positive for all stakeholders if they went forward with a wintertime maximum. 

“Any loss of revenue during the winter by being a little conservative is going to be miniscule,” Glastetter said. “There’s no reason this can’t be a win-win.”

Tacoma Public Utilities was not able to comment by Tuesday morning’s press deadline, but community relations specialist Monika Sundbaum said the utility planned to respond. That response will be published in next week’s edition of the Nisqually Valley News if it is issued. 

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