After a few weeks of some precipitation, it looks as though the water levels are heading in the right direction in 2021! A big thanks to Susan’s Freeman Bay for providing a visual. We are still awaiting a decision from our October 5th court hearing and the minute we know anything, we will pass it along. Happy New Year!
NIPSCO continues to maintain close coordination with local officials to closely monitor the drought conditions and extended lack of rain and water flow along the Tippecanoe River, which has resulted in low lake levels at Lake Freeman where the Oakdale Hydroelectric Dam is situated. An Abnormal River Condition (ARC) Warning was issued in early August, requiring NIPSCO to adjust operations to maintain a defined level of flow through its Oakdale Dam along Lake Freeman to comply with the Endangered Species Act, which is federally mandated and enforced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS). Without a significant rainfall or water upstream, the use of Lake Shafer – where NIPSCO’s Norway Hydroelectric Dam is situated – may be required to maintain compliance, which could potentially affect lake levels at Lake Shafer. The timing and degree of any potential drawdown of Lake Shafer is dependent on weather, but current projections indicate such activity could occur as early as this year. During normal operations, NIPSCO is required to operate both dams as “Run-of-Rivers”, under its license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This requires NIPSCO, to the maximum extent practicable, to match the outflow from the Norway Dam to the sum of the inflows to Lake Shafer, and the outflow of the Oakdale Dam has to match the sum of the inflows to Lake Freeman. During times of drought when there is a lack of rainfall for an extended period of time – as experienced this summer – there is less water moving down the river. FERC refers to those instances as “Abnormal River Conditions,” and due to the presence of endangered mussels, provides specific guidance on how much water must be discharged from Oakdale Dam. When Abnormal River Conditions persist – which it has done – it causes Lake Freeman levels to drop. If there is not enough water in Lake Freeman to maintain the required flows through the Oakdale Dam, NIPSCO may need to utilize the Norway Dam to draw on Lake Shafer in order to meet the federal requirements. NIPSCO is requesting a temporary variance from FERC in the event that drought conditions persist and Lake Shafer water is needed to comply with the federal requirements. The specific manner in which NIPSCO will manage both lakes in these conditions, including how the drawdown and reloading occurs, is dependent on safe operation of the dams and how weather conditions evolve. For an ARC event to be lifted, the 24-hour average must rise above 410 cfs at the Buffalo USGS gauge and the 24-hour average must rise above 300 cfs at the Winamac USGS gauge. Current information may be found at www.nipsco.com/hydro.
LAKE SHAFER ADDITIONAL FAQs
Can’t NIPSCO just continue using Lake Freeman to comply with the Endangered Species Act? No, without additional water or rainfall, there is not sufficient water in Lake Freeman to maintain the required flows through the Oakdale Hydroelectric Dam.
When water levels begin to return/increase, how will the refilling process occur? As water levels begin to return, NIPSCO will attempt to fill both lakes as close to the same time as reasonably possible to balance the stability of the Norway Dam on both sides.
How long will NIPSCO utilize Lake Shafer to maintain the required flows through the Oakdale Dam? NIPSCO has requested a temporary variance to allow for the use of Lake Shafer until the elevation at Lake Freeman has returned to normal operating levels (610.35 ft). The temporary variance will expire after that point. NIPSCO is not able to predict how long the current drought conditions will continue, as it is dependent on weather and additional water.
As many of you have been following our Low Lake Level situation, here we are, yet another week going by without enough rain. We first want to start out by letting you know we had our hearing on Monday in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. For those who listened in, we felt, at first, we were off to a rocky start. As time went on, we started feeling much better as our attorney was able to get in some very good and important points. We then listened to the FERC attorney and then the FWS attorney from the Department of Justice, and there was just as much critical questioning to those attorneys. We realized the judges definitely did their homework and read the materials given to them ahead of time, and were prepared to ask tough questions to all of the parties. All in all, we felt there wasn’t one party that succeeded over the other, and are thankful that the outcome is being determined by three impartial judges. We hope to hear a decision within the next 30-60 days, but as you know it is federal court and could take several months. After all, the SFLECC has been battling this for the last six years.
Several have listened to us as we’ve gotten the word out to contact the Federal Senators and U.S. Representatives. Thank you for continuing to do this as it is imperative to gain their attention. You ask, “Is this doing any good?” Yes, it certainly is! Over the last month, we have had meetings with U.S. Representative Jim Baird who is very passionate regarding this matter. Representative Baird has been to Lake Freeman and has seen firsthand what we are dealing with. We have also had meetings with and calls from Senator Braun’s and Senator Young’s offices. As some of you may have seen a couple weeks ago, Senator Braun had the opportunity to bring up the Lake Freeman situation while attending an EPW Hearing on the Endangered Species Act. On a local level, Senator Brian Buchanan, along with Senator Alting and Rep. Don Lehe, have been here evaluating the situation and are continually getting in touch with people at the state level. Senator Buchanan and Senator Alting have been involved in several conference calls that we have had and have even initiated some of those calls. So as you can see, your calls and letters are getting the attention we need.
Lastly, we want you to know that just because our court date has happened, we are still constantly trying to come up with other solutions. We have a phenomenal task force, and the SFLECC Board of Directors and staff are very passionate about this issue as we plough forward. We will continue to do whatever we can to help save the lake levels!
Gabrielle Haygood, SFLECC Executive Director
John Koppelmann, SFLECC Lake Levels Task Force Chairperson
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) propose to amend portions of their regulations that implement section 4 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (Act). The proposed revisions set forth a process for excluding areas of critical habitat under section 4(b)(2) of the Act, which mandates their consideration of the impacts of designating critical habitat and permits exclusions of particular areas following a discretionary exclusion analysis. They want to articulate clearly when and how FWS will undertake an exclusion analysis, including identifying a non-exhaustive list of categories of potential impacts for FWS to consider. The proposed rulemaking would respond to applicable Supreme Court case law, reflect agency experience, codify some current agency practices, and make some modifications to current agency practice. The intended effect of this proposed rule is to provide greater transparency and certainty for the public and stakeholders.
Here’s a submitted comment from a Lake resident that may help shape yours: “As it pertains to the Tippecanoe River above Lake Shafer & below Lake Freeman, please acknowledge the lakes have been always run as run-of-the-river lakes, where the measured input of upstream water matches the output at the other end. Currently, the calculations are incorrect and Oakdale dam is being mandated to release more water than enters the dam system, causing the draining of Lake Freeman in historic amounts. When there is a drought, the rivers all slow and recede naturally. Artificially supplementing the water released to the lower Tippecanoe River will also eventually run out, but at a huge environmental impact to the natural habitats of the lakes. The thousands of dead mussels, turtles, crawdads in Lake Freeman is devastating. In addition to the environmental impacts to the Lake Freeman habitats, the sea walls around the lake have already started collapsing due to the lack of positive pressure that has always been present between the water & land. Homeowners were left unable to plan for removal & protection of their property in preparation for this extended draw down. This will ultimately cause property damage to frozen boats, damaged covers due to snow load. Boats are unable to be winterized due to lack of manpower and capacity at the local marinas. This is all due to a federal mandate based on flawed science. There has to be a better balance!”
There are 3 cases and it looks like we may be 3rd on the docket. If you don’t want to hang on the phone waiting for our argument to start, there will be a recording posted on the Court’s website this afternoon, usually by 3 pm.
A note from SFLECC Lake Levels Task Force Chairperson:
Many of you are aware that our court hearing in the US Court of Appeals – DC Circuit was yesterday, and I am sure many of you listened in. I will start with my take on the hearing and then I will summarize the follow up phone call I had with our attorney.
All in all, I felt the judges had read the materials beforehand and were prepared to ask ALL the sides thought-out questioning. Even when it comes to polar bears! (If you listened to the hearing, you’ll get this reference.) I will be honest, I do not feel that we have a leg up on the other parties, but I do not feel that either of them have a leg up on us. I feel the decision is up in the air, but I am happy that we have impartial judges making a decision instead of what we’ve been dealing with to this point with FWS using the ESA to hide behind, and FERC taking the complacent and easy route of agreeing with the FWS.
In speaking with our attorney yesterday afternoon, he feels our evidence is solid especially with some of the lines of questioning the judges had for the other 2 attorneys. He said he doesn’t want to get our hopes up because it is completely up to the judges. I asked if there was a set time that the judges had to make a decision and he said no. He anticipates 30-60 days before we hear a decision. He said he has heard of some judges rendering a decision after 2 weeks, but also others taking 11 months. I also asked if he is able to submit any kind of summary or final remarks and he said not unless the judges instructed him to do so, and they did not in this case.
So now we are back to waiting on a decision and not knowing when we will hear that decision. This is all too familiar of a situation over the last 6 years. Keep your fingers crossed that we hear the decision we want to hear and please continue to pray for rain, as that is our only means of immediate relief.
Thank you for your continued help and support of this issue.
*Let them know the Endangered Species Act in which US Fish & Wildlife is enforcing is resulting in…in your own words describe how it is affecting your Lake Freeman experience.
*Explain your damages if you have any to your property and property value concern.
3. We have been asked many times if Lake Shafer will be lowered soon and the short answer is no. Here is NIPSCO’s official statement, “NIPSCO’s first responsibility is the safety of the local population as well as their employees. NIPSCO is also responsible for the security and safety of the dam structures themselves and we are required to follow our FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) operating license. Lake Shafer has an upper and a lower operating level range NIPSCO has to maintain to stay in compliance with their FERC operating license. NIPSCO’s Hydro Dams operating license does not allow, nor require, NIPSCO to draw down Lake Shafer below the minimum operating level to help meet the requirements of the USFWS (US Fish and Wildlife Service) Technical Assistance Letter.”
4. Support SFLECC’s appeal in Federal Court to overturn FERC’s decision to uphold US Fish & Wildlife’s mandate to drain Lake Freeman!
5. What about mussels in Lake Freeman? US Fish & Wildlife has determined there aren’t mussels in Lake Freeman that are on the endangered species list.
This past Saturday, the SFLECC held its Annual Meeting at the Monticello City Park to share what’s been happening over the last year and to vote in new board members.
Awards were also given to our dredge operators, Jim Shipp and Corey Keigher, for being vital parts of this organization for the past 20 years!
Eight board candidates were on the ballot for 5 available board positions. After the votes were counted, Pat Carroll, Dave Hardy, Ed Lucy, Rick Sweet, and Joel Stiller were elected to the SFLECC Board of Directors.
From NIPSCO – An Abnormal River Condition (ARC) Warning has been issued for Lake Freeman, as surface elevation levels as measured at the Oakdale Dam have gone below the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) required minimum operating level of 610.10 ft. and we are continuing to experience abnormal river conditions.
As of 6:21 am EST, August 16, 2020, the surface elevation taken near the face of the Oakdale Hydroelectric Dam was measured at 610.04ft. below the normal operating target of 610.35ft. The change in surface elevation measured at the hydro does not reflect or equate to the same potential change in depth for other areas of the lake. Surface elevation is the relative measurement to sea level, local datum. A change of .01 ft in the surface elevation equates to 1/100th of a foot or .12 inches. NIPSCO does not measure average depths.
Currently, the 24-hour daily average for flow is 414 cubic feet per second (cfs) at the Buffalo USGS gauge and 290 cfs at the USGS Winamac gauge. An ARC event will be lifted once the 24-hour average rises above 410 cfs at Buffalo and the 24-hour average rises above 300 cfs at Winamac.
Indiana Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officers, remind the public to be mindful of their surroundings and be aware of any submerged objects in or underneath the surface of the water. Due to the water levels objects such as tree stumps, old dock pilings and such may start to show or become a hazard to boat operators, swimmers, and tubers.
Without additional rainfall, depths could continue to be reduced. NIPSCO will continue to be in close coordination with the Indiana DNR, SFLECC, Emergency Management and other authorities to provide regular updates until levels return to normal.
The annual meeting of the Shafer Freeman Lakes Environmental
Conservation Corporation will be on Saturday, August 22, 2020 in the Benjamin
Pavilion at the Monticello City Park. The meeting will begin at 10:00 a.m.
Five board positions will be filled at the meeting. Any
person interested in being on the SFLECC board is asked to send their resume
Attn: Nominating Committee
PO Box 372
Monticello, IN 47960
Or email to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Resumes must be received no later than July 15, 2020. Only members of the SFLECC are entitled to vote. Directors must be legal residents of the State of Indiana.
Members of the corporation consist of persons who have a
paid current Shore Front License or have made a donation twice the amount of a
standard Shore Front License during the calendar year. They could also be a
recorded member of an association with a paid current Shore Front License.
Members are encouraged to attend this meeting. Ballots will be available at the
registration desk. Please ask about responsibility pertaining to a