To help maintain water flows to irrigate several species of endangered freshwater mussels, NIPSCO is considering using Lake Shafer since Lake Freeman water levels are low. File photo
To help maintain water flows to irrigate several species of endangered freshwater mussels, NIPSCO is considering using Lake Shafer since Lake Freeman water levels are low. File photo
MONTICELLO — Now that Lake Freeman’s water levels are down more than 10 feet and quickly dwindling, Lake Shafer has officially appeared on the radar for a potential drawdown.

NIPSCO officials said Tuesday if there is not enough water in Lake Freeman to maintain the required water flows through Oakdale Dam, the utility may need to use the Norway Dam to draw on Lake Shafer to meet the federal requirements.

The timing and degree of any potential drawdown of Lake Shafer is dependent on weather, but NIPSCO officials said, “current projections indicate such activity could occur as early as this year.

NIPSCO, which controls the Oakdale Hydroelectric Dam, has been releasing water from Lake Freeman, abiding by a federal mandate from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) to comply with the Endangered Species Act. Water being released from the Oakdale Dam is being used to aid several endangered species of freshwater mussels downstream from Lake Freeman.

NIPSCO also controls the Norway Hydroelectric Dam. Officials announced Tuesday that without a significant rainfall or water upstream, “the use of Lake Shafer may be required” to maintain compliance and “which could potentially affect lake levels at Lake Shafer.”

In sum, Lake Shafer water would be released, flow through what is left of Lake Freeman and out via the Oakdale Dam.

NIPSCO issued an Abnormal River Condition (ARC) warning in August, which required the utility to maintain a defined level of flow through the Oakdale Dam – known as “run of river” — to aid the endangered mussels downstream.

During times of drought – as experienced this past summer – there is less water moving down the river. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) refers to those instances as “abnormal.” Due to the presence of the endangered mussels, FERC has provided specific guidance for NIPSCO as to how much water must be discharged from the Oakdale Dam.

During normal operations, NIPSCO must operate the dam as “run of river” under its license from FERC. This requires the utility to match the outflow from the Norway Dam to the sum of inflows to Lake Shafer, and the outflow of the Oakdale Dam must match the sum of inflows to Lake Freeman.

Last month, the Shafer & Freeman Lakes Environmental Conservation Corp. (SFLECC) had a hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., discussing the legality of the federal mandate, challenging both USFWS and FERC. John Koppelman, chairman of SFLECC’s water level committee, said repeatedly said a ruling shouldn’t be expected anytime soon.

“(Even though) our court date has happened, we are still constantly trying to come up with other solutions,” Gabrielle Haygood, executive director of SFLECC, stated in a press release. “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.”

As it stands, for an ARC event to be lifted, the 24-hour average must rise above 410 cfs (cubic feet per second) at the Buffalo US Geological Survey gauge and 300 cfs at the Winamac USGS gauge.

To view the “live” statistical information, visit https://dashboard.waterdata.usgs.gov/app/nwd/?region=lower48.

NIPSCO officials said they are asking for a temporary variance from FERC in case drought conditions persist and Lake Shafer water is needed to comply with the federal mandates.

Officials added that the specific manner in which NIPSCO will manage both lakes in drought conditions, including how the drawdown and reloading occurs, is dependent on safe operation of the dams and how weather conditions evolve.

NIPSCO officials said that should the use of Lake Shafer be applied, they will alert SFLECC, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, local emergency management agencies and officials ahead of such steps to provide public notice.
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