Char-Koosta News 

POLSON — If you want to optimize the operation of your vehicle you have to maintain it. If you fail to properly maintain it you may end up broke down somewhere down the road. If you invest in fixing the vehicle before an anticipated failure you can continue down the road without worrying about being stranded in the middle of nowhere. 

If you want to see what the lack of proper maintenance looks like you only have to look at the Flathead Indian Irrigation Project. Years of the lack of proper maintenance have hindered the operation of the project for decades. As a result a major investment in rehabilitation has to be made, it is something that water uses of the project cannot afford. However, the rehabilitation of the irrigation project physical plant and structures are a key component of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Federal Reserved Water Right Compact that presently is awaiting the approval of the U.S. Congress. Rehabilitating the irrigation project is one of the line items on the proposed water compact.

If you want to see what proper maintenance and physical plant upgrades looks like you only have to look at the former Bureau of Indian Affairs managed Flathead Indian Power Project, now called Mission Valley Power. Prior to the CSKT management the power project physical plant and structures mirrored the condition of the irrigation project. Stubbed power poles and old vehicles illustrated the substandard bailing wire and duct tape maintenance approach. Mission Valley Power has reversed that by investing in rehabilitation of the power project.

Those conditions and solutions of the power and irrigation projects physical plant and facilities were articulated in the 1985 Congressional report. 

When the CSKT purchased Kerr Dam now named Séliš Ksanka QÍispé Dam that understanding the importance of optimal operation is tied to proper maintenance was well known by the Tribes. Thankfully so did the previous owners and managers of the dam as it was never near the decrepit condition of the irrigation and power project because they knew the importance of the relation of maintenance to operation. The Energy Keepers, Inc. also understood that and as a result operation and maintenance (O&M) is key to an optimal running facility.

Energy Keepers, Inc. O&M staff of 16’s primary functions are to maintain and upgrade the SKQ Project’s hydro plant to maximize its lifetime and operational effectiveness so the cost of ownership is minimal. 

To that end EKI O&M personnel conduct Predictive Maintenance, sort of like a person putting snow tires on a vehicle in the winter; Preventive Maintenance, sort of like a person changing the oil in cars at regular intervals; and risk based capital planning of the Capital Improvement Program, sort of like a overhauling the vehicle’s engine. The result is a well running vehicle that will get you to your destination.

To be more succinct Predictive Maintenance monitors the performance and condition of equipment during normal operation with the overall objective of being able to predict when equipment failure could happen and prevent it by performing regularly scheduled and corrective maintenance. Computers monitor the plant’s vital components.

Preventive Maintenance is conducted via a computerize maintenance management system. The system automatically schedules maintenance based on a set of frequencies that range from minor monthly maintenance up to 10 years for major maintenance and inspections.

Capital Improvement Program is for maximizing the reliability of the three SKQ Dam generating units for commercial operation. EKI uses a risk-based approach to determine where capital investments are needed. Capital improvements coupled with preventive maintenance reduce the overall risks of failure ensuring the reliability of the units. One of the three-generation units was recently completely reconstructed and brought back on line. 

“Our goal is to maintain and rehabilitate the facility for future generations and provide monetary and facility value for the membership,” said Chief Infrastructure Management Officer Andrew Westerman. “Over the past few years EKI has invested in improving unit reliability by rebuilding and upgrading one of the three generating units. These large upfront investments will pay dividends for generations of the local community, and the people of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.”

The Capital Improvement Program focuses on: operation support like plant control, security and communications; improvements to power for station services required to run the plant and generating units; improvements to water control system to extend the life of dam components or replacement of components that includes spill gates, head gates, tail gates, trash racks and intake decks; unit reliability improvements to increase the dam system’s reliability, maintainability and performance; infrastructure improvements and replacements that extend the life of structures and facilities; opportunity to increase the revenue generation possibilities such as updating the generation units for improved reliability and effectiveness; and required compliance and regulatory improvements mandated by existing compliance and regulatory laws or changes in new laws that require upgrades of equipment.

Westerman said the SKQ three-unit hydroelectric plant has the capacity to generate 208 megawatts of electricity. On a yearly basis the plant delivers an average of 1,100,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to supply power to 100,000-110,000 homes a year. 

Some of the recent capital improvements to the facility include: the rebuilding generation unit 2, one of the three hydroelectric generating units; replacement of existing powerhouse access bridge for safety reasons including its ability to safely handle multi-ton loads; and improvements to the dam spill gates. There were many more improvements to the facility and all were made to improve safety and reliability of the system.

The dam is also an integral component of flood control in the Flathead River Basin. The CSKT operate/manage the SKQ Dam in coordination with the Army Corps of Engineers’ Hungry Horse Dam operation.

Westerman said the capital improvements aren’t cheap but the capital investments are long lasting and ensure a fully optimized stable operation that is important for power marketing that will provide dividends for future generations of members of the tribal confederacy.

“Planning is very important when it comes to capital investments,” Westerman said. “Outages are expensive. That’s why the continuous improvement process is important. We pre-plan out for a very long term and invest upfront.”

Properly managing, operating and maintaining the SKQ Dam is not cheap but not doing so is very expensive and dangerous. 

Planning for the rebuild of Unit 2 resulted in $2.5 million expended, an unplanned outage with a failed generating unit would cost upwards to $8.5 million.

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