Lucky Peak State Park managers say they're frustrated with miscommunication

Park managers frustrated my miscommunication.

BOISE -- Lucky Peak State Park managers and users are frustrated about what they're calling poor communication between and from water managers.

They say over the past several weeks, there were multiple times they weren't told Lucky Peak reservoir levels were dropping; in fact, they say they were told the opposite - and that's cause for concern.

Lucky Peak Reservoir is currently about 12 vertical feet below full and previously lake levels had been dropping. State park managers say that has been disrupting operations at the Spring Shores Marina and affecting patrons.

"They say one thing, it's the other," Spring Shores Marina moorage patron Mike Clay said. "Recreation is last on the list - and that's OK, if they'd just tell us."

"I stood in front of 67 moorage customers and told them the lake was going to come up 21 feet and it came up six feet and then dropped about ten," Lucky Peak State Park assistant manager Surat Nicol told KTVB. "This is the third time in about six weeks where we were told lake levels were going to come up dramatically and each time the lake has actually dropped."

Nicol says he's getting his information from water managers, being the Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation. But he says it appears they're not communicating correct projections or data with one other or with him when it comes to inflows and outflows.

In a letter sent to patrons June 15, Nicol explained, "[Bureau of Reclamation (BOR)] controls most of the water and [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] uses data from [Bureau of Reclamation] to manage releases from Lucky Peak... This system works well if data is accurate and partners fulfill their obligations. For whatever reason, communication and control among the water managers has been very poor. The result has been grossly inaccurate forecasts, inconvenience to lake patrons and a big disruption to the operations at Spring Shores Marina. After much effort, BOR told us the lake would drop "a little" for a while. That type of information is not particularly helpful to anyone."

Nicol says the park has an excellent relationship with the Army Corps of Engineers and they have been fantastic to work with, but the communication during this historic spring run-off season has been off.

"We really need that communication and if news is bad, fine, the news is bad. We just need to know how bad it is," Nicol told KTVB.

The whole situation- along with tons of debris scattered throughout the lake and shore- is really hurting recreation and the Spring Shores Marina and Idaho State Parks & Recreation bottom line, he says.

"This is the latest we've seen a start on," Nicol added. "We need to come up dramatically more, that may or may not happen, we don't know. And I'm not confident enough to say that, yes, this is going to happen or when it's going to happen."

"It's not good at all," Clay added. "People are afraid."

Lucky Peak Reservoir is now 89 percent full and rising, but Nicol says it's not full enough to where docks around the lake are floating or accessible. He also says park managers are not quite comfortable telling people to dock their boats in slips in the marina closest to shore.

"For us, we really need the lake to come up about six feet so we can start adjusting our winches, get our docks where they need to be to make them safe and stable, and get people where they're comfortable coming up and putting their boats in," Nicol added.

"You pay X amount of dollars and then you can't use it, it's sort of bad money," Clay added. "You don't want to take a $30, $40, $50,000 boat and then come out here and it's laying outside with a prop in the mud."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says they communicated with park managers regularly but never gave a definitive date as to when lake levels would rise.

"It's my understanding that the park managers at Lucky Peak when they get information about what is likely to occur with reservoir operations they do share it," U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Walla Walla District spokesperson, Gina Baltrusch, said. "There were no guarantees given to anybody from our end."

Baltrusch tells KTVB the Corps told park managers Lucky Peak may "go down a little before we can get our discharges down" about a week ago. But she says the nature of flood risk management is that things can be unpredictable and fluid.

In addition, she says release water from Lucky Peak based on the effect it has downstream and based on the need to keep available space in Lucky Peak for the record high snowpack melting off the Boise Basin. 

"Changes can occur several times a day," Baltrusch added. "We cannot shut off the spigot to make the lake rise because we've got a super saturated shoreline along the Boise River through the greater Boise area."

The Bureau of Reclamation water manager Brian Sauer said in a statement to KTVB: "With high and changing flow conditions and multiple agencies, there is potential for miscommunication. Managing the flooding was the first priority at all times. It's possible that there was miscommunication as things changed on the river."

In a separate statement, Sauer explained:

"The three dams on the Boise River are used together for water supply and flood control.  This year, due to the large snowpack, it was necessary to pass a lot of water out of the reservoir system to minimize downstream flooding.  In fact enough water was released this spring to fill the entire system twice over.

Lucky Peak releases reached over 12,000 cubic ft per second for a period of time in May.  Inflows to the reservoir system peaked at over 24,000 cfs. The reservoir system worked to minimize flooding, keeping river flows in Boise under 10,000 cfs.

The reservoir system does have its limitations. The system it typically filled from top to bottom to maintain a buffer at the lower end of the system - we can't move the water uphill once its in Lucky Peak. This why Lucky Peak typically fills last during flood operations.

Due to the large releases from Lucky Peak and limits to the amount of water that can be released from Arrowrock Dam once reservoir levels drop below the Arrowrock spillway elevation, system operators were unable to move enough water into Lucky Peak to avoid dropping lake levels. Now that flood releases have been reduced, Lucky Peak levels have come back up.

Inflows into the reservoir system can also vary greatly, depending upon the weather.  For example between May 5 and May 7, inflows into the reservoir system went from 15,000 to 24,000 cfs."

Both water operations managers and state park managers say that public safety is the number one concern; above all else, they say that is their main priority.

Water managers say they are still managing flooding as there is six times the amount of snow water up in the mountains than the Boise River reservoir system can currently hold. They say Lucky Peak will fill, just not at this time, so they are asking for everyone's patience.

"It's an unfortunate side effect of flood risk management that the recreation facility there did not get the levels it wished it would have," Baltrusch added.

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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