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Feds say Energy Keepers managed Flathead Lake levels appropriately amid public outcry

The FERC released a letter in February saying Energy Keepers operated within the boundaries of the licensing requirements
Flathead Lake Aerial
Posted at 2:08 PM, Mar 08, 2024

POLSON — We reported extensively on Flathead Lake's low water levels last summer and that problem could become even bigger this summer.

Boaters, recreators, and people living along the shores of Flathead Lake submitted more than 25 official complaints to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FREC), during the summer of 2023, accusing Energy Keepers Inc. of wrongdoing.

Energy Keepers operate the Se̓liš Ksanka Qĺispe̓ Project, a dam that controls the outflow of the lake.

July and August 2023 saw record-low levels of the lake, and formal complaints alleged: “private boat docks were inaccessible, swimming and boating were hazardous, and lower lake levels affected some businesses which resulted in lost income.”

Following their investigation, FERC sent a letter to Energy Keeper’s CEO, Brian Lipscomb on February 5, 2024, saying the group had “complied with the operational requirements of your license”.

Speaking on the shore of Flathead Lake on Thursday, Lipscomb said the decision felt vindicating.

“It was a satisfaction from our perspective that our regulator would come out and say that, yeah, you are in fact following the license,” Lipscomb said. “We pride ourselves in doing that.”

Energy Keepers is adjusting some of their operations in response to complaints.

In the FERC response, regulator Kelly Houff wrote:

“Some complainants suggested that you were not properly balancing lake levels to meet all interests of Flathead Lake, while others suggested you should not be allowed to meet minimum downstream water flows while drastically affecting the lake levels which in turn affects recreational opportunities. Others expressed that there was not a public hearing or public participation with the decision to maintain minimum flows downstream of the project at the expense of recreation.”

Read the full FERC report here.

Lipscomb said the company has recently hired a communications coordinator to help share their data, and will soon announce webinars the public can attend to learn more about the decision-making process.

He predicts this upcoming summer could be worse than last year, and people should plan ahead.

“We’ll just see what happens this year,” Lipscomb said. “We’re starting at what may be worse conditions this year, at least snowpack-wise. We’ll have to see what the rest of March brings for us.”

He estimated the lake would reach full-pool sometime in May, but that it would be hard to predict how long levels would remain high.

“We have conditions that nobody has experienced that are alive today,” Lipscomb said. “It all depends on how the runoff comes off. That’s the key here. It’s how fast it comes off, and if there is any rain with it.”

The last nine months have shattered global heat records, according to Copernicus, the European Union climate monitoring service.

Lipscomb said that as the planet gets warmer, extreme weather will impact the lake levels even more than what we are seeing today.

“Those extremes are what we have to manage in the energy industry and the water situation and the resources we deal with, “ Lipscomb said. “You just have to look at the last several years to see how tough it has been.”

KPAX Special Report: The impact of Flathead Lake's low water levels