LIHI Certificate #30 - Lake Chelan Project, Washington

March 25, 2020 - COVID-19 Update:Trails and open spaces managed by Chelan PUD are open where social distancing can be maintained. A plan is being developed to provide essential staff to provide limited upkeep and maintenance of Chelan PUD managed parks.  The following is the current status.  As the situation continues to evolve, this information may change.

  • Boat launches: Chelan Riverwalk, Old Mill, and Manson park boat launches are open.
  • Park areas: Chelan Riverwalk, Old Mill, and Manson parks and parking lots are open.
  • All trails are open.
  • Restrooms: All restrooms are closed. Portable restrooms provided at Chelan Riverwalk, Old Mill, and Manson Parks.
  • Playgrounds, Ballfields, Sports Courts: All closed.

The Lake Chelan Project is located on the Chelan River, near the City of Chelan, in Chelan County, Washington. The project occupies 465.5 acres of federal lands administered by the U.S. Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service. The project was first granted an operating license in 1926 and the first generating unit came online in September of 1927. The second unit became operational in August of 1928.

Lake Chelan is a long and narrow glacial lake which lies in a mountain valley on the eastern slope of the Cascade Range in North Central Washington. The terrain in the basin is rugged with prominent landforms that are the result of alpine and continental glaciation. From Twenty-Five Mile Creek up-lake, the terrain is mountainous and rugged. In many cases, the steep slopes run directly into the lake with no flat beaches or shoreline. The terrain of the lower end of the lake is less severe and mainly arid or semi-arid. The upper end of Lake Chelan is bordered by approximately 50 miles of shoreline in National Forest lands and almost 12 miles of shoreline in National Park lands, more than half of which are designated as a National Recreation Area and Wilderness. The lower end of the lake is primarily in private ownership and is a highly popular area for summertime recreation. There are no other dams on the Chelan River.

The project includes a 40-foot-high, 490-foot-long concrete gravity dam; a reinforced-concrete side discharge intake structure that is integral with the dam; a 14-foot-diameter, 2.2-mile-long power tunnel; a 45-foot-diameter by 125-foot- high steel surge tank; a 90-foot-long penstock that transitions from 14 feet in diameter to 12 feet in diameter before bifurcating to two 90-foot-long, 9-foot-diameter steel penstocks; a powerhouse containing two vertical-shaft, Francis-type turbine generators with a combined installed capacity of 59.2 MW; and a 1,700-foot-long excavated tailrace adjacent to the confluence of the Chelan River and the Columbia River that returns the project flows to the Columbia River.

Project Name Lake Chelan
LIHI Certificate No. 30
LIHI Certificate Term September 26, 2017 - September 25, 2022
Owner Public Utility District No. 1 of Chelan County
State Washington
Location Located at river mile 3.8 on the Chelan River, near the city of Chelan, in Chelan County, Washington.
Installed Capacity 59.2 MW
Average Annual Generation 412,400 MWh
Facility Type store and release
FERC No. P-637 issued 2006, expires 2056

The project, which can be operated locally or remotely from the Public Utility District (PUD) No. 1 of Chelan County’s Wenatchee Dispatch Center, operates at full or near full capacity almost year-round. Chelan PUD operates the project to maintain reservoir elevations between 1,100 and 1,079 feet msl, with the reservoir maintained above 1,098 feet for most of the summer recreation period. The reservoir is drawn down annually for storage of spring snowmelt beginning in early October, with the lowest lake levels being reached in April. The lake is refilled through May and June to attain an elevation of 1,098 feet on or before June 30, where it is maintained above that level through September 30. Spill typically occurs during May, June, and July, when inflows exceed the hydraulic capacity of the powerhouse units (2,300 cubic feet per second (cfs)) or when generation is curtailed. Water is spilled over the spillway into the 4.5-mile-long reach of the Chelan River that is bypassed by the project.

The project operates in a store-and-release mode and impounds a 32,560-acre reservoir. The project provides a minimum bypass flow of 80 cfs and an additional 260 cfs to the Habitat Channel during spawning season. From December 1 through April 1 the project generators provide 800 cfs into the tailrace to ensure suitable spawning flows for anadromous fish. This flow regime was developed with the National Park Service, US Department of Agriculture Forest Service, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Waters within the project reach are designated one of the most pristine waterbodies in North America. The project began a 10-year water quality study of the Chelan River which was completed in 2019. Results are being analyzed by the Washington Department of Ecology (WDOE) to determine the beneficial uses of the Chelan River. Consultation with the Water Resource Program at WDOE has concluded that the project is meeting its water quality metrics.

Natural barriers in Chelan Gorge prevent upstream fish passage. The project has removed barriers at the mouths of tributaries to the lake in order to facilitate spawning access for salmonid species. Spawning habitat is also found downstream of the project and flow regimes at the project help provide suitable habitat. Resident fish species include Westslope cutthroat trout, smallmouth bass, rainbow trout, northern pikeminnow, suckers, tench or doctor fish, mountain whitefish, and cyprinids. Chinook salmon have also been observed in the spawning habitat reaches. An entrainment study is planned in coordination with the Lake Chelan Fishery Forum once sufficient numbers of Westslope cutthroat trout are present.

The project lands are primarily owned by the National Park Service, US Forest Service, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, and Washington State. The project adheres to several management plans for the oversight of the watershed and shoreline in the project area. These include an erosion control plan, large woody debris management plan, Stehekin Area implementation plan, and a wildlife habitat plan. All of these plans support the project’s shoreline and watershed continued abundance. The project owner provides coordination efforts, funding, and monitoring measures at several sites on federal lands to support bank protection, dust abatement measures, and erosion control. Efforts are also made to support local wildlife including mule deer, bighorn sheep, threatened and endangered species, and riparian/wetland indicator bird and amphibian species. The project provides funding for habitat improvements, weed control, and wildlife surveys.

Threatened or endangered species potentially present in the project vicinity include bull trout, Upper Columbia River steelhead, Upper Columbia River spring-run Chinook salmon, bald eagle, Canada lynx, Northern spotted owl, gray wolf, grizzly bear, Ute ladies-tresses, and pygmy whitefish. In consultation with FERC and USFWS, it was concluded that the project would not affect the lynx, owl, wolf, eagle, salmon, or bear species. The project has undertaken several measures to ensure suitable spawning habitat and submits biennial reports on implementation of mitigation measures to support several biological objectives related to aquatic and wildlife habitat. These reports are reviewed by the WDOE and the Chelan River Fisheries Forum, an advisory group comprised of members from federal and state agencies, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Yakima Indian Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, the City of Chelan, and the Lake Chelan Sportsman Association.

Historic properties in the project area include 39 archaeological sites, five of which are National Register eligible and seven of which are potentially eligible. Treatment and mitigation plans for these resources are developed in consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) as well as the Lake Chelan Cultural Forum comprised of the SHPO, the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation, and federal and state agencies. The Forum assists in preparing annual monitoring reports which are then submitted to the SHPO.

Recreational resources at the project include two day-use areas, seven fishing access points, swimming areas, six boat ramps, and two scheduled whitewater releases each year (400 cfs and 375 cfs). The project owner provides funding to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife to raise and stock fish in Chelan Hatchery and to the United States Forest Service and the National Park Service to maintain recreation facilities. Public access is provided free of charge.


Certification History

July 15, 2019: The decision to recertify the Lake Chelan Hydroelectric Project is final. No appeals were received during the appeal period which closed on February 17, 2019. The new certification term for the Project is from September 26, 2017 through September 25, 2022.

January 18, 2019: The Low Impact Hydropower Institute (LIHI) has preliminarily approved the Lake Chelan Hydroelectric Project for a new 5-year term of Low Impact Certification with the following conditions:

  • Condition 1::  The Owner shall notify LIHI within 90 days of receipt of the determination made by WDOE as to whether or not the results of the 10-year study have shown achievement of water quality standards or if not, what actions will be taken by WDOE in response to the study findings.
  • Condition 2:  The Owner shall notify LIHI within 90 days of notification that the entrainment study must be initiated. This LIHI notification shall include the schedule for implementing the study and when the results of the study are expected to be available. The annual compliance statements to LIHI shall include a status update of the study. Should it be completed with the term of this Certification, a copy of the study report along with agency comments on the results shall be provided.

This decision is preliminary pending the 30-day appeal window. Only those who commented on the initial application during the 60-day comment period are eligible to file an appeal. Such appeal needs to include an explanation as to how the Project does not meet the LIHI criteria. Appeal requests can be submitted by email to comments@lowimpacthydro.org with “Lake Chelan Hydroelectric Project” in the subject line, or by mail addressed to the Low Impact Hydropower Institute, 329 Massachusetts Ave, Suite 2, Lexington, MA 02420. All requests will be posted to the website.  The applicant will have an opportunity to respond and any response will also be posted. Requests must be received by 5 pm Eastern time on February 17, 2019.  The full application and reviewers report are available below.

If no appeal requests are received and the decision becomes final, the Certification term for the Lake Chelan Project will be September 26, 2017 through September 25, 2022.

October 23, 2018: The Low Impact Hydropower Institute has received a complete application for a new term of Low Impact Certification for the Lake Chelan Hydroelectric Project. The Project is located on the Chelan River in Chelan County, Washington.

LIHI is seeking public comment on this application.  Specifically, we are interested in knowing whether you think the Project meets the LIHI Low Impact Certification Criteria, as revised in the 2nd Edition Handbook.  Please review the program and criteria in LIHI’s revised Handbook and then review the Project’s 2018 application materials below.

Comments that are directly tied to specific LIHI criteria (flows, water quality, fish passage, etc.) will be most helpful, but all comments will be considered.  Comments may be submitted to the Institute by e-mail at comments@lowimpacthydro.org with “Lake Chelan Project Comments” in the subject line, or by mail addressed to the Low Impact Hydropower Institute, 329 Massachusetts Avenue, Suite 2, Lexington, MA 02420.  Comments must be received at the Institute on or before 5 pm Eastern time on December 22, 2018 to be considered.  All comments will be posted to the web site and the applicant will have an opportunity to respond.  Any response will also be posted.

December 27, 2012: The Lake Chelan Project has been recertified for a second five year term, effective September 26, 2012 and expiring September 26, 2017.

January 24, 2008: The Lake Chelan Hydropower Project has been certified as low impact.