Steering committee puzzled at Rainy Lake level recommendation

Members of a steering committee are pleased the International Rainy Lake Board of Control is recommending its suggested rule curve changes for Namakan to the International Joint Commission.
But they are equally puzzled the board rejected their recommendations for Rainy Lake, opting instead to leave the rule curves there the same.
Rick Walden of Environment Canada and Ed Eaton, with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, went over the IRLBC’s six recommendations during a public meeting last Wednesday night at the Red Dog Inn here.
The proposed rule curves for Namakan are designed to keep the water levels higher in the winter and spring, with a slight draw down throughout the summer, giving dam control operators more flexibility in maintaining the lake levels, Walden said.
But the change on Rainy Lake is virtually nothing, Eaton said, with differences occurring only due to rounded off outflow numbers to make for easier metric/imperial conversion.
Paul Radomski, a biologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and a member of the steering committee, stood up during the meeting to voice concerns they had over the IRLBC’s decision to ignore their recommendations.
“We’re extremely disappointed with the Rainy Lake [levels],” he said, noting the recommendations of the steering committee would provide a “modest summer draw down.”
But Walden noted a summer draw down would have a negative impact downstream, sending an additional 70 cubic metres of water per second down Rainy River for about the month of June, which, in turn, means an extra 200 cu. m/sec on the Winnipeg River.
“That’s a four to five-foot difference in elevation in some places,” Walden said. “The only way you can get a win on Rainy Lake and Namakan is by having a loss downstream.”
Other recommendations the IRLBC is making include:
•the outflow from Gold and Bear Portage should be accounted for when deciphering minimum outflow criteria for Namakan Lake;
•when lake levels drop below the IJC lower rule curve, outflow on Namakan should be reduced to 30 cu. m/sec and to 100 cu. m/sec on Rainy Lake; if lake levels drop below the emergency drought line, minimum outflows should be reduced to 15 cu. m/sec and 66 cu. m/sec respectively;
•the new rule curves should be adopted on a trial basis for a minimum of 10 years before any adaptations can be made;
•the IJC should take a lead in implementing monitoring programs run by resource management agencies on both sides to study the effects of the new rule curves on both environmental and economic factors; and
•regulation operations are to be solely at the discretion of the dam owners in accordance with basic conditions so long as the levels remain in the rule curve.
That last point would override the FIRC rule, which states dams will run at the maximum of the rule curve for two weeks after ice-out–a rule designed to keep water in the spawning areas for walleyes.
Radomski also expressed concerned that overriding the FIRC rule would hurt walleye spawning, as did fellow steering committee member Joe Boyle.
“There’s some concern that the wider band [flexibility] might be taken away by the lower level here,” Boyle argued, adding the IRLBC had no concrete evidence the FIRC rule was having a negative impact.
A public hearing likely will be held in early July for further discussions on the IRLBC’s recommendations.
The public has until the end of July to give their input into the report before it is sent on to the IJC.