Vinita – The Grand River Dam Authority (GRDA) is expressing its disappointment today after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) denied GRDA’s request for a Grand Lake rule curve variance.
In response to lingering drought conditions and to better manage Grand Lake during extended low inflows in the watershed, GRDA asked FERC to consider a variance to the lake’s mandated elevations. FERC issues GRDA its license to operate the Pensacola Project (Pensacola Dam and Grand Lake) and that license contains a seasonal rule curve that mandates GRDA hold the elevation of Grand Lake at certain levels at different times of the year. Those elevations range from 742 feet in the spring to 744 feet during the busiest portion of the summer boating season and a 741 elevation during the annual mandated drawdown in the early fall. Drought conditions in 2012 prompted GRDA to ask for, and receive the same type of variance.
Due to last year’s ruling, GRDA did not proceed with the annual drawdown of Grand Lake to the 741 elevation last August. That preserved enough water in Grand to provide the necessary releases into the downstream reservoir, Lake Hudson, to conduct mandated dissolved oxygen testing through October.
“We did have some rains earlier this year, but the likely drought conditions over the rest of the summer will make it very difficult for GRDA to meet all its mandated responsibilities without this variance,” said GRDA Chief Executive Officer Dan Sullivan.
Sullivan added that the purpose for that annual lake drawdown was to allow for millet seeding around the shores of Grand Lake, to enhance wildlife habitat. That seeding effort has never achieved the intended results and may no longer be the best option.
“Continuing the drawdown in a period of drought, especially when the whole purpose for the drawdown was a seeding program that really doesn’t work, could cause operational and economic burdens to the lake area,” said Sullivan.
He added that GRDA does understand the flooding concerns of Miami-area residents and has worked closely with the city in recent months to help manage high water conditions.
“Last year, the FERC variance allowed us to respond to the drought in a way that balanced all the interests that depend on both our Grand and Hudson lakes,” said Sullivan. “We were really hoping for that same type of consideration this year. I think we were able to show that, when GRDA has greater operational control over the lake levels, we can work together with all parties in mind.”
When GRDA requested the variance in March, Sullivan asked FERC to give his organization the authority to “adaptively manage the Pensacola reservoir based upon current weather conditions and outlooks.”
GRDA was seeking a variance that would allow it to go below the current Grand Lake rule curve during the drought period. It needed the ability to lower Grand so that it could address dissolved oxygen conditions in Lake Hudson and also meet contractual obligations with the city of Tulsa. Lake Hudson is a secondary source of drinking water for Tulsa.
In the other part of its request, GRDA had also requested to forego the annual drawdown to the 741 foot mark in August, to also combat the continuing drought.
“The same reasons we asked for the variance last year are still in place,” said Sullivan, “and we had hoped for FERC’s approval to take a more proactive approach to lake management through this summer.”
Because the mandated Grand Lake drawdown is scheduled to begin in mid-August, Sullivan said it would be very difficult at this point for GRDA to submit another variance request in time to address summer drought conditions.
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