Ecology's Decision to Allow Okanogan PUD to Dewater Similkameen Falls
Courtroom Day #1: Local residents - Jere Gillespie and Joseph Enzensperger
On Tuesday our judges asked this question: what does 10 cubic feet per second of water (cfs) look like? Compare 10cfs with 500 cfs - the average monthly median flow over Similkameen Falls.
Today (Wednesday) our experts on aesthetic flows take the stand and we get into the science, methodology, and reason on how and why aesthetic flows should have been required and completed, and the importance of protecting water quality standards and all beneficial uses of rivers in Washington State.
Jere Gillespie with the Columbia River Bioregional Education Project, and Joseph Enzensperger (both local Okanogan County residents) did a great job of explaining and demonstrating in both testimony and cross examination (through video and photos) exactly why the Similkameen River and Falls are important cultural, historic, and aesthetic benefits to the community. Since conservation and recreation organizations are Appellants in this case before the Pollution Control Hearing Board (Ecology and the Public Utility District No. 1 of Okanogan County are Respondents) our witnesses were up first.
Our legal representatives Andrea K. Rodgers Harris and Kristen J. Larson did a great job of preparing our witnesses, evidence, and legal arguments, leading through opening comments, and setting the stage for the Board to find that the 401 Certificate is unlawful and invalid, and to remand the 401 Certificate to Ecology with specific instructions to comply with the Clean Water Act and all applicable state laws.
Courtroom Day #2: Waterfalls expert Doug Whitaker
What are the lessons from restoring water to Spokane Falls – the successful settlement between Sierra Club, CELP and Avista Corp. -- for at-risk waterfalls throughout Washington State, including Similkameen Falls? The 3 judges heard repeatedly about what worked at Spokane Falls – and how Department of Ecology failed to learn those lessons in reaching its decision to dewater Similkameen Falls.
On Wednesday our waterfalls expert Doug Whitaker with Confluence Consulting explained to the 3 judges with the Pollution Control Hearing Board why the Department of Ecology (“Ecology”) and the Okanogan PUD should have conducted an aesthetic flow study, but failed to do so. For waterfalls such as Similkameen Falls, the federal Clean Water Act and applicable state laws require aesthetic analysis. Since 2008 river advocates have asked for additional aesthetic flow information, and both Ecology and the PUD have responded that such a study is impossible.
Dr. Whitaker then went on to explain how such a study could have been done, and explained how he and others gathered critical aesthetic flow information in one afternoon during an October 2012 visit to Similkameen Falls. He demonstrated to the Board that not only was a more detailed study possible, but that an analysis could have been done quickly and without undue effort and expense.
Also addressed today were Ecology and the PUD’s contention that flow reduction in the Similkameen and over the falls to 30 to 10 cfs for more than eight months each year would be minimal. Testimony yesterday and today showed existing low-flow photos and videos (236 cfs is the lowest flow photographed) and then went to explain the impacts of reducing these historically natural low-flows by an additional 87 to 90 percent.
Witnesses explained important elements of our case:
•finding a more elegant solution (one that doesn’t sacrifice any of the important beneficial uses of the Similkameen),
•demonstrating how that solution could have been found,
•explaining why that did not occur since the driving goal of this process unfortunately centered on the economics of the project, and
•discussing how the minimum flows of 30 and 10 cfs were pre-determined based on this economic factor and not on a balance of public beneficial use – of which power production in just one use.
Once again our legal representatives Andrea K. Rodgers Harris and Kristen J. Larson did a great job of guiding everyone through what has become a grueling schedule; one that appears will require all of today and tomorrow, and perhaps additional days, to complete.
Courtroom Day #3: Department of Ecology
On Thursday, Department of Ecology staff took the witness stand. Ecology testified on the agency's decision to dewater Similkameen Falls that they:
•Never considered any flow that would make the project uneconomic for Okanogan PUD (so nothing over 100 cfs).
•Did look at different waterfall flow scenarios, such as diverse flows, weekend flows and partial flows. However, this data disappeared early on, never to surface again. Diverse flow data were discarded with no additional input, even though stakeholders (Appellants) had asked for this exact aesthetic information since 2008.
•Throughout the process, no aesthetic information was gathered, only economic data in reference to what the project could afford to make a profit for the Okanogan PUD.
•Early in the process, Ecology supported no flows in the bypass, totally dewatering the Similkameen, and today believe that the recommended 30 to 10 cfs flow (for more than eight months each year) will provide a benefit for fishing in the river, and that 10 cfs is “adequate to protect the fishery” in the bypass. Staff also stated that “building the project is good for fish because the PUD has built in mitigation.” (Compare the 30/10 cfs decision with the average monthly median waterfall flows of 500 cfs.)
In testimony, Ecology staff recognized the “irony” of the situation. That PUD mitigation money was being proposed to improve access to the river, Enloe Dam and Similkameen Falls, to build public overlooks over the dam and falls, and to improve camping -- all while the project would effective dry up the waterfalls which is the primary public attraction, and replace the sound of falling water with the loud hum of turbines.
We learned that while Ecology staff can approve a 401 Water Quality Certificate, only the Director can deny a certification. We also heard Ecology staff state that only rarely does Ecology address aesthetics as a beneficial use (Snoqualmie Falls and Spokane River were the only examples Ecology staff could give), and that they do so only on projects located in populated areas.
Appellants note that the Department of Ecology is charged with protecting all beneficial uses of Washington’s rivers, and they cannot restrict this to just popular, urban or other subjective criteria. Does Ecology restrict in this manner regarding water quality or fishery issues. If not, why would you restrict aesthetics which is also a state-required beneficial use?
Ecology staff testified incorrectly that throughout the Enloe process, conservation groups never specified that they were unsupportive of the 30 to 10 cfs. minimum flow. To reach this conclusion, Ecology had to disregard years of comments, meetings, and involvement in both the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and 401 Certification process.
On Friday we hear more from Ecology staff, then testimony from PUD witnesses, and finally closing arguments from all parties. The hearing is scheduled to end on Friday, April 19.
Courtroom Day #4: Similkameen Falls
On Friday, April 19, we continued to hear testimony from the Department of Ecology's in-stream flow scientist, who discussed how the decision was made to de-water Similkameen Falls. The Board also heard from Okanogan PUD's relicensing manager and a consultant who managed the aesthetic flow process.
What was clear from all testimony is that the PUD and Ecology very deliberately agreed to remove 90% of the water from the River during the lowest flow months of the year. As approved, the water quality certification would allow the river to be reduced from its average monthly median flow of 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to just 30 or 10 cfs for more than eight months each year -- a mere trickle in the riverbed.
Washington's Dept of Ecology and the PUD also disregarded several requests to further study and protect aesthetic and recreational values, including requests from the National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Washington Department of Natural Resources, and the appellants.
By mid-morning on Friday it became clear that the three judges would not have time to hear from all witnesses by the end of the day. The hearing adjourned in late afternoon, with another 1-2 days of witness testimony to be scheduled in May or June. Still to come are the PUD's water quality, fisheries and recreation experts.
Appellants are the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, American Whitewater, Columbia River Bioregional Education Program, North Cascades Conservation Council, and Sierra Club (all members of the Hydropower Reform Coalition). Our legal representatives are Andrea K. Rodgers Harris and Kristen J. Larson. Testimony is being heard by a 3-judge panel of the Pollution Control Hearings Board.
Appellants are the Center for Environmental Law & Policy, American Whitewater, Columbia River Bioregional Education Project, North Cascades Conservation Council, and Sierra Club (all members of the Hydropower Reform Coalition). “Respondents” are the Washington Department of Ecology and Okanogan PUD #1.
Legal representatives for Appellants are Andrea K. Rodgers Harris and Kristen J. Larson, with support of many including CELP staff Suzanne Skinner and Rachael Paschal Osborn.
—Court notes prepared by John Osborn and Rich Bowers.
State Board Rules:
Similkameen Falls Deserve Water
Okanogan PUD has held ratepayer meetings to explain substantial rate increases starting in 2013 and running through 2017. The PUD’s plan to rebuild and power up Enloe Dam on the Similkameen River, for a mere 9 megawatts of power, is a big reason for the rate increase. The PUD has already spent millions on this uneconomic proposal, and will spend many millions more. Does this make sense for Okanogan PUD ratepayers?
Independent economic analysis reveals that Okanogan PUD will lose $26 on every megawatt hour it generates (in other words, with a projected Net Average Annual generation of 45 GWh, Enloe Dam would lose $1.17 million per year of its operation). Any revenue from Enloe Dam is far exceeded by the costs to construct, operate, and maintain the dam. Okanogan PUD is already selling its surplus power at a loss. If the Enloe project goes forward, your rates are going up—a lot—because the PUD would sell the power at a loss.
The PUD has its mind made up to go ahead with Enloe Dam evaluation since it received its FERC license July 9th to build the power station, even though they received overwhelming opposition from ratepayers to not proceed with capital investment plans that will lose money and raise rates. We must let them know they cannot spend money we do not have on capital projects that will continue to raise our rates in perpituity.
We encourage Okanogan PUD customers to give the PUD the following message:
(1) Enloe Dam hydropower doesn’t make economic sense. Rate increases required to build and operate the dam are not worth the revenue it will generate. PUD will lose $1 million per year the dam is operating. It can buy power from BPA and Wells Dam for less money.
(2) The PUD needs to abandon its efforts to re-start Enloe Dam, and seek partners willing to pay for dam removal and remediation of sediment behind the dam.
(3) Ratepayers must have a chance to review and comment on any upcoming draft PUD re-analysis of Enloe Project economics that may occur before any final decision is made by PUD to seek investors or consultants to begin Enloe Project.
Please call or e-mail the PUD Commissioners and General Manager with the above message.
Commissioner Ernie Bolz, 509.486.2553, firstname.lastname@example.org
Commissioner Steve Houston, 509.429.9248, email@example.com
Commissioner Dave Womack, 509.826.5314, firstname.lastname@example.org
General Manager John Grubich, 509.422.3310, email@example.com
Rocky Mountain Econometrics study of Enloe Dam hydropower economic feasibility:
Okanogan PUD statement regarding long-term rate increases and rate increase study:
Similkameen River Coalition Partners
Columbia River Bioregional Education Project, 509.485.3844
Center for Environmental Law & Policy: Enloe Dam, 509.209.2899
American Whitewater, 425.417.9012
North Cascades Conservation Council, 360.296.5159
Sierra Club Washington State Chapter,
We are all conserving electricity and paying more for it these days. Retail electric sales revenues have increased by $1.4 million dollars yet our PUD is sinking faster than the Titanic, currently $38 million in debt, $9 million more than last year. What happened to cause such a financial catastrophe?
Recently the PUD hired a top government service company, $4 billion-a-year government contractor, SAIC Energy, Environment & Infra-structure, LLC to provide financial analysis, find the hole in our bucket and get the most out the ratepayers without a fuss. SAIC says electric rates must go up to keep the PUD from failing completely. Increases of 33% over the next 5 years are not what we were told to expect three years ago. Who should be held accountable for what sure looks like poor management? The vision for our future is even worse.
Instead of efficiently distributing the energy we purchase from BPA, Wells Dam and Nine Canyons Wind, our PUD wants to sell $64.2 million in municipal bonds to some of the richest fat-cat investors on Wall St. These bond sales will be used to build new hydro power at Enloe Dam on the Similkameen River.
Independent studies and even the costs projected by the PUD show this project will lose $26 on every megawatt/hour generated, about $1 million per year long into the future. Upper Columbia Salmon and Steelhead will be harmed, and Similkameen Falls below Enloe will be dried and ruined for fish, fishermen, tourists, hikers and future generations. Oroville will lose the attractive draw of a scenic river and a vibrant fishery. This is wrong. Turn out at the public meeting planned for 6:30 pm. PUD Headquarters, Monday July 22 and let your voice be heard.
On July 23, 2013, the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board issued an order directing the Department of Ecology to do an aesthetic flow study if Okanogan PUD decides to build its economically troubled Enloe Dam project. The Board ruled that the water quality permit (called a "401 Certification") does not protect the scenic and associated recreational values of the Similkameen Falls. A coalition of local, state and national river advocacy groups challenged the permit for failure to comply with federal and state Clean Water Act requirements that protect scenic values of rivers. A trial was held at the Board’s offices in Tumwater, Washington on April 16-19 and May 15-16, 2013.
“The Board’s decision could not be more clear: the Board held that the coalition proved that Ecology had simply failed to study and protect the proposed project's impact on the scenic values of Similkameen Falls, and instead improperly chose flows based upon the Enloe Project's economics,” said Suzanne Skinner of the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. The Board found that Ecology's "401 certification is deficient" to protect the Similkameen River "without further conditions" on aesthetics. (Decision p. 33).
The Board criticized Ecology’s after-the-fact evaluation of the minimum flow regime, which reduces natural flows by more than 90% to 30 cfs during summer months, and 10 cfs from October through March each year. The Board stated that “selection of a minimum flow in this manner results in Ecology considering the impact of aesthetic flows on the operation of the [Enloe Dam] Project, rather than considering the Project’s impact on the aesthetic values of the flows. This is not the proper standard.” (Decision p. 27).
The Board noted that Similkameen Falls, although remote, is attracting an increasing number of viewers due to development of local and regional trail systems. The Falls’ value as a scenic stop on the Similkameen River Trail is a factor to be considered in protection of flows over the dam as well as at the Falls.
“The Similkameen River is a valuable resource to the community for recreation, scenic values, and fish and wildlife. This decision affirms that the Similkameen remains a multi-use river and is not for the sole use of power generation,” said Jere Gillespie, Columbia River Bioregional Education Project.
The Board’s decision comes at a time of growing uncertainty about Okanogan PUD’s ability to finance the Enloe Dam project given electrical rate increases to PUD customers for the next several years. There is growing opposition by Okanogan PUD ratepayers to pursue Enloe Dam given its outdated cost and revenue projections.
“Okanogan PUD customers are already feeling a big pinch with proposed 30% rate increases,” said Rich Bowers of the Hydropower Reform Coalition. “Enloe Dam will take a big bite out of ratepayers’ pocketbooks. The PUD has failed to assess the economics of the project since 2007 despite an independent economic analysis showing the Project will be a big money-loser. The PUD spent nearly a million dollars in the last year, fielding attorneys and consultants in this appeal, all of which has resulted in an adverse decision for the PUD and the ratepayers who are footing the bill.”
The Board’s decision has statewide significance given the number of dams that are up for federal licensing, and that Ecology will now have to consider aesthetic, scenic and recreational values of rivers. “The state cannot issue permits that take all of the water out of rivers. The Enloe Dam appeal sends a message of statewide significance that the Department of Ecology must issue permits that promote balanced use of Washington's waterways,” said John Osborn with Sierra Club.
The parties (including the Department of Ecology and Okanogan PUD) have 30 days to appeal the Board’s decision.
*The appellant groups are Center for Environmental Law & Policy, American Whitewater, Columbia River Bioregional Education Project, North Cascades Conservation Council, and Sierra Club (all member groups of the Hydropower Reform Coalition). The waterfalls advocates are represented by attorneys Andrea Rodgers Harris of Mattson Rodgers law firm, and Kristen J. Larson of Sound Law Center, both in Seattle.
A number of us attended the PUD public meeting last Monday (July 22, 2013). The rates are going up and we, the rate payers, are being forced to pay for a whole series of miscalculations by our commissioners, well compensated PUD management and the many consultants the utility thinks we need.
It was pointed out by some, very well-spoken county residents that the PUD policies are hurting the ratepayers on every level of our local economy. We are living on less and our PUD is trying to grow. It makes no sense. As a gentleman from Omak pointed out, Federal, State and Local governments are all cutting back at least 10%. Where is the belt tightening from our PUD planners? Why is a major government contractor, SAIC Energy, Environment & Infrastructure, LLC needed to bring credibility to our once self-sufficient Utility? Will this “credibility” help plans to sell those municipal utility bonds to Wall St. investors. Will they be told the truth about the Similkameen’s low seasonal flows or her endangered Upper Columbia Steelhead hanging in the balance.
The powerhouse at Enloe has been silent for over fifty years. The river has returned as a fishery and recreation has replaced the industrial uses of the past. Tourism, as you so often write, is the hope of prosperity looking forward for Oroville and north county. There is no surge in growth and no shortage of electricity if used wisely, and no demonstrated need to develop new power generation at Enloe Dam. Improving the Similkameen River fishery will help fill those beds around town. The proposed Enloe Powerhouse Project will ruin our most revered and special place, Similkameen Falls, and bury us so deep in debt we will not recover in our lifetime.
I have great respect and appreciation for the dedicated human beings who comprise the Okanogan PUD. I strongly disagree with the expansive direction forwarded by the PUD decision makers. We must stop borrowing and spending money we don’t have now, and probably never will. $38 million is a deep, deep hole and it’s time to stop digging. It’s our future and our river. We won’t be giving up on either any time soon.
The Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board(PCHB) has granted the Petition for Reconsideration of the Hydropower Reform Coalition (composed of Center for Environmental Law & Policy, American Whitewater, Columbia River Bioregional Education Project, North Cascades Conservation Counsel, and Sierra Club) and will amend the July 23, 2013 order with the following amendments
so that the Enloe Generating Project will be operated in a manner that does not violate water quality standards for any designate use—including aesthetics—and the level of protection for uses must be balanced. Here are the amendments to the order:
1) The word "secondary" be stricken in reference to aesthetic flows on page 25 of the Order, Conclusion of Law No. 7, as all uses of water must be equal and balanced.
2) The first sentence of the Guideline #2 on page 34 of the Order is more stringent than state law and thus is contrary to the law.The amended Order reads, "shall not cause an increase in water temperature above the conditions that currently exist prior to operation of the Project that would violate water quality standards at any location in the Project area."
Visit and like our FaceBook page "Friends of the Similkameen River" for the full text of these amendments we received to the 7.23.13 Order of the PCHB.
• When Public Utility Districts Forget Who They Serve
• When will Our Nightmare End?
• Pollution Control Hearing Board Decision in favor of Aesthetic Values
• Report Shows Enloe Dam to be Economic Loss
• What Do We Do about Okanogan PUD?
• Ratepayer Issues with the Proposed Enloe Dam Facilities Rebuild
• State's Decision to Dewater Waterfalls Draws Criticism
• Group's Appeal State's Decisionto Dewater Similkameen Falls
• Can Washington State Dry Up a River? River Advocates say "No"
• Will Enloe Dam Ever Come Down?
• Courtroom Updates of Appeal of Dept. of Ecology's Decision to Allow Ok PUD to Dewater Similkameen Falls
• Summary of Courtroom Days 1-6 of Enloe Dam 401 Permit Appeal with Appellant Closing Remarks (5.18.13)
• Similkameen Sunday Celebration
• We can End the Columbia Basin Salmon Wars Now by Balancing Energy, Conservation (9.22.12)
• SoloPower rolls out flexible Solar Panels in Portland plant opening (9.29.12)
• Teck Metals Ltd. admits using Columbia River as Industrial Sewer (9.13.12)
• Harvard Medical School Study confirms High Rate of Colitis down river from Teck Smelter (8.14.12)
• Teck Metals Ltd. admits Polluting Columbia River in U.S., but does not concede dumped waste caused harm (9.10.12)
• Hearing on Dick (alias "Doc") Hastings' bill (Saving Our Dams and Hydropower Development & Jobs Act 2012) point up divide between fish, hydropower forces (8.16.12)
• Groups say state ignored Clean Water standards when certifying Enloe Dam (8.21.12)
• Appeal filed over Enloe water permit (8.15.12)
• America's Deficit Attention Disorder—Money is the least of our problems—Pay attention to the real deficits that are killing us
• USDA Seeks Comments on Non-Browning Genetically Engineered Apples from Canada (8.17.12)
• Deb Abramhamson: Interview with SHAWL founder who receives Spokane Water Hero award
• Rachael Paschal Osborn: Climate Change and The Columbia River Treaty Renegotiation in 2014
• Northport WA residents downwind of Teck smelter see disease rise (8.12.12)
• Colville Tribe, Teck Resources go to court over Columbia River Pollution(8.12.12)
• California Hydroelectricity Production vulnerable to Climate Change (8.8.12)
• Ecovillage sows resistance and a Sustainable Panama (8.6.12)
• Pebble Mine near headwaters of Bristol Bay in SW Alaska likely to endanger largest Sockeye salmon fishery in world (7.25.12)
• Exempt Wells & Sprawl Threaten Sharp-tail Grouse Habitat & Cattle Ranching in Tunk Valley, Okanogan County (7.15.12)
• Recent Court decision holds that WA State counties must now regulate the Legal Usage of Water for Subdivisions
• Aqua Permanente files petition with Dept of Ecology concerning Water Scarcity and Exempt Wells in Kittitas County Development
• Large industrial Feedlots & WA state water policies threaten Family Farms exempt well water supply
• CleanUp Hanford: Our Legacy from
Oroville. On Tuesday, January 24, 2012, the Columbia Bioregional Education Project (Columbiana), joined by several conservation groups, issued a new economic analysis of Okanogan Public Utility District's (PUD) proposal to restart hydropower generation at Enloe Dam on the Similkameen River. The analysis, prepared by Rocky Mountain Econometrics (RME) of Boise, ID, concludes that it is not possible for the PUD to sell power from Enloe Dam at or above the cost of producing it, and that the PUD will lose $26 for every megawatt hour produced at the dam.
More information about the Hydropower Reform Coalition and member groups, as well as Recent History of Enloe Dam Relicensing and Similkameen Falls Picture Record. Here you can view booklet on the Similkameen River Trail to Enloe Dam.
Addiional articles of interest:
The Pacific Lamprey, close to extinction, could
bring down Northwest salmon too.
• Community Cultural Center of Tonasket
• Conservation Northwest
• Conscious Cultural Festival
• Farmers Markets - Okanogan County
• Ferry County Co-op
• Friends of the Trees Society
• Green Okanogan
• Jackrabbit Newsletter
• Kettle Range Conservation Group
• Lake Roosevelt Forum
• LA Catholic Worker Agitator
• Methow Naturalist
• Methow Valley Citizens Council
• Okanogan Highlands Alliance
• Okanogan Land Trust
• Planet Drum Foundation
• SHAWL Society
• Slow Food Okanogan County
• SolWest Renewable Energy Faire
• Tonasket Natural Foods Co-op
• Wisdom of the 13 Grandmothers
* Sept 21 - Peace & Justice Draw the Line Vigil, 3 pm at 4th and Whitcomb Ave, Tonasket WA
• Sept 21 - International Day of Peace Celebration, "Roadmap to Apartheid," CCC Tonasket, 5:30 pm dinner, 7:30 film
• Oct 18-20 40 th Annual Okanogan Family Faire, 10 mi. east of Tonasket on Hwy 20.
1. The PUD will spend over $2 million in 2012 for Enloe Dam, even though they have not produced an updated cost/benefit analysis for the project since 2007, and it is not clear the project will be a sound economic investment.
2. The PUD is pushing ahead with Enloe Dam without obtaining the approval of the ratepayers, even while the PUD has tripled the long term debt of the PUD in the last three years, and angered the ratepayers with large rate increases.
3. The PUD has not recalculated projected costs for re-building the power producing facilities. The initial estimate of $28 milion was calculated in 2007, nearly five years ago. A fiscal evaluation of the PUD's costs forecasts construction costs of $40 million.
4. The value of the power produced at the proposed Enloe Dam has declined by more than one-half since the original 2007 estimate of $66/MWhr.
5. The PUD has told the public that Enloe power will qualify to be "green power" under the state's Initiative 937, Requirements for New Energy Resources, and thus have an increased value, but our investigations show that Enloe power does not qualify now, nor will it likely qualify in the future.
6. The bulk of Enloe power will be produced in the spring when the northwest market already has a glut of cheaper power available.
7. Enloe Dam facilities will destroy the scenic values of the Similkameen Falls canyon which is a feature of great value on the new Similkameen River Trail, part of the Pacific Northwest Trail. Thus the dam could reduce tourism revenues associated with trail use in north Okanogan County.
8. Enloe Dam is 90 years old. How long do concreate walls last? The dam is a liability for its owners. This is why the BLM, owner of the dam site, wants dam removed if the license is not awarded or the PUD decides not to build the new power generating facilities.
9. If the dam is removed, the Similkameen River will become a valuable steelhead fishing river. The fisheries agencies do not consider Similkameen Falls to be a barrier to fish migration during the spring freshet.
Enloe Dam on the Similkameen River could be licensed to resume power production after 50 years of inactivity, sometime in 2012. The Okanogan PUD is nearly finished with its required reports to FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. FERC has issued a final Environmental Assessment greenlighting the project.
Conservation Groups, including American Rivers, American Whitewater, Sierra Club, CELP, and Columbiana, working together as the Hydropower Coalition, are official parties to the FERC licensing procedure.
A final permit, the 401 for water quality, has just received the last round of scoping comments, and could be issued by the WA State Dept of Ecology.
Two major issues await resolution. The 54 foot Enloe Dam completely blocks fish passage for steelhead, salmon and lamprey into the upper portion of the 3,600 sq. mile Similkameen Basin. Fish passage on the Similkameen has been proposed as mitigation for fish habitat losses incurred with Grand Coulee Dam since 1941. Enloe Fish Passage was authorized by Congress in 1976. In particular the endangered Upper Columbia River Steelhead would benefit from the large increase in upstream spawning and rearing habitat. Given the recent decision by Judge Redden that more habitat must be secured for listed stocks, fish passage at Enloe Dam is the best opportunity in the upper Columbia River region to secure the wild native steelhead stock. Spring Chinook salmon and Pacific Lamprey are also at extreme risk and would gain significant habitat opportunities above Enloe Dam.
The second major issue is loss of scenic values in the canyon which holds Enloe Dam and the Similkameen Falls. This site is now a destination viewpoint for the new Similkameen River Trail, a segment of the PNT, Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.
The design of the new facilities calls for diverting the Similkameen from its riverbed, piping into turbines to make electricity, then returned to the riverbed below Similkameen Falls. A 400 foot section of the river, referred to as the “by-pass” reach, will be dewatered for eight months of the year; reducing flows from median 500 cubic feet per second (cfs) to 30 and 10 cfs. Conservation groups are calling for more water over Similkameen Falls, citing the requirements of the Clean Water Act to protect aesthetic uses of a river.
This license for Enloe Dam is the 4th request by the Okanogan PUD since Enloe was taken out of operation in 1958, because costs of continued operation outweighed the economic benefits of producing power at the dam. Three previous licenses have been rejected by FERC because the dam would have not been economically viable, especially given the requirements of fish passage.
In January, Conservation Groups sponsored an economic evaluation of the PUD’s costs and benefit statement for Enloe, which was produced in 2007. The analysis, by Rocky Mountain Econometrics (RME), shows that Enloe Dam will be an economic loss for the PUD. It will not be possible to produce power at Enloe for less than the costs, and for less than the open market price for power. RME’s analysis also pointed out the potential loss of tourism revenue from scenic viewing of Similkameen Falls on the new Similkameen River Trail.
Enloe Dam is 90 years old. It has not produced power in 50 years. If PUD does not license and build this time, BLM, which owns the land Enloe sits on, wants a study of dam removal.
If the dam comes down, the Similkameen River will run free its entire 320 mile length – and welcome home the native fish. —Jere Gillespie
Oroville – On July 13, 2012, public interest organizations criticized the Washington State Department of Ecology for certifying that a proposed hydropower project would meet state water quality standards, when the project would instead effectively dewater a historic waterfall on the Similkameen River in Okanogan County. The state agency’s decision, known as a “401 Certification (with Appendices A-J)” under the federal Clean Water Act, will move forward a proposal by Okanogan PUD to reactivate Enloe Dam for a small amount of hydropower by diverting almost all the water from Similkameen Falls. Ecology’s decision ignores the tremendous public benefit of the Falls for tourism, aesthetics and recreation. The beauty of the Falls has made them the focal point of the newly developed Similkameen River Trail, which will become part of the 1,200-mile Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. If Enloe Dam is reactivated, the viewpoint of this new trail will be a trickle of water. Moreover, Ecology’s decision runs roughshod over the Falls cultural and historical importance to the region’s First Nations and Native American Tribes.
“We are very disappointed with this decision,” said Rich Bowers of the Hydropower Reform Coalition. “A major purpose of the certification is to protect and maintain public values and existing and designated uses of the river. This decision ignores the outstanding aesthetic, recreational and tourism values, which bring significant revenue to the Oroville area. On top of this, we lose the waterfalls itself.”
“It is even more disappointing considering that the proposed project, even with dewatering the Falls, is an economic loser for the utility, for local ratepayers, and for the state,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Northwest Stewardship Director for American Whitewater. “An economics analysis released earlier this year showed that the utility will lose $26 for every megawatt hour produced at the dam. This has been a major concern for both local ratepayers and Northwest river advocates.”
Okanogan PUD has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to issue a license to install turbines at the existing Enloe Dam, which blocks the Similkameen River about four miles west of Oroville, Washington. Originally built in the early 1900’s, Enloe Dam has not generated hydropower since 1958. The current license application, pending with FERC since 2008, is the PUD’s fourth attempt since the mid-1980’s to add power generation to the dam. Previous licensing efforts failed due to poor economics and fish passage issues.
“Similkameen Falls is a pivot point in our area’s past and future,” said Jere Gillespie with the Columbia Bioregional Education Project. “It is important that the state take the public values provided by Similkameen Falls into account, and not just issue a blanket approval for a proposal that will destroy these values year round, and will at the same time increase electric bills for every Okanogan ratepayer. The price that ratepayers will pay is to gaze at a dried-up waterfall and lost tourist opportunities. How wrong this is.”
“Enloe Dam has not operated for 50 years, and has been controversial for both environmental and economic reasons since it was first built,” said Suzanne Skinner, with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “Allowing a utility to dry up Similkameen Falls and to kill local tourism revenue from the Falls is a poor decision for all of Washington State.”
For more information:
Rich Bowers, Hydropower Reform Coalition, 360.303.9625
Jere Gillespie, Columbia River Bioregional Education Project, 509.485.3844
Suzanne Skinner, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, 206.456.3827
Thomas O'Keefe, American Whitewater, 425.417.9012
Oroville – Today, several national, state, and Okanogan County-based public interest organizations appealed a decision by the Washington State Department of Ecology that would allow a proposed hydropower project on the Similkameen River to move forward. The project, proposed by Okanogan PUD, would reduce Similkameen Falls to a trickle. The Falls are located immediately downstream of the dam and could potentially attract thousands of visitors to the area each year, bringing up to $516,000 to the local economy. The groups appealed the decision because Ecology failed to adequately consider the water quality and aesthetic impacts of the project, which are an important part of the state’s water quality standards under the Clean Water Act.
Enloe Dam blocks the Similkameen River approximately four miles west of Oroville, Washington. The dam, which was originally built in the early 1900’s, has not generated hydropower since 1958. This is Okanogan PUD’s fourth attempt since the mid-1980’s to add power generation to the dam, and previous licensing efforts have failed due to poor economics and fish passage issues. An economic study completed in 2012 by Rocky Mountain Econometrics shows that the project is still economically unsound, and that the Okanogan region would lose $20 million over the term of the license while simultaneously dewatering the Falls.
“The Falls are important to this community,” said Jere Gillespie with the Columbia Bioregional Education Project. The group, which is based in North Okanogan County, filed the appeal along with the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, the North Cascades Conservation Council, American Whitewater, and Sierra Club. “Ecology’s decision ignores not only the Clean Water Act, but the tremendous public and economic benefit of the Falls for tourism, aesthetics and recreation.”
The beauty of the Falls against the stark landscape has made them the focal point of the newly developed Similkameen River Trail, which will become part of the 1,200-mile Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. If the dam is reactivated under Ecology’s present certification, the viewpoint of this new trail will be a dried up reach of boulders. Ecology’s decision also ignores the Falls’ cultural and historical importance to the region’s First Nations and Native American Tribes.
“Ecology acknowledges in its certification that aesthetics are a designated use under state law for the Similkameen River, but fails to protect the beauty of the falls,” said Thomas O’Keefe of American Whitewater. Average natural flows in June are 7,580 cubic feet per second, and fall to 500 cubic feet per second during the driest month of September. Ecology’s certification allows for flows of 10 cubic feet per second - 50 times lower than the lowest natural flow. “This would have a significant impact on the falls and water quality downstream,” said O’Keefe.
“Ecology cannot ignore its responsibility to protect aesthetics on behalf of all citizens,” said Suzanne Skinner, with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “Allowing this utility to dry up Similkameen Falls sets a terrible precedent that ignores the law and is bad policy for the people of Washington State.”
The waterfalls advocates are represented by attorneys Andrea Rodgers Harris and Kristen J. Larson.
Links & Contacts:
• Columbia River Bioregional Education Project, Jere Gillespie, 509.485.3844, firstname.lastname@example.org
• Center for Environmental Law & Policy, Suzanne Skinner, 206.456.3827, email@example.com
• American Whitewater, Thomas O'Keffe, 425.417.9012,firstname.lastname@example.org
• North Cascades Conservation Council, Rick McQuire, 206.363.6954, email@example.com
• Columbia River Future Project—Sierra Club, John Osborn, 509.939.1290, firstname.lastname@example.org
Similkameen River flow July through May is shown by the green line in the graph at right. Flows range from a high spring runoff in July to low flows in September, coming up again in the Fall, low again in Winter, and then rising with the Spring snow melt in April to June.
This is an average low water year. The red dashed line at bottom of graph shows the PUD's proposed low flows of 30 cfs and 10 cfs.
The WA Dept. of Ecology has granted a permit to the PUD that authorizes the proposed low flows.
Hearing begins to determine if State Department of Ecology disregarded public interest duty, violated laws, and ignored economic data in approving Public Utility District (PUD) diversion
On Tuesday, April 16, the Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) will begin a four day hearing to decide whether Washington State Department of Ecology (ECY) can allow a utility to effectively dry up a river in order to generate only a few megawatts of power. River advocacy groups are asking the Board to require ECY to fully assess the aesthetic and recreational values of the Similkameen River and its falls as required under the Clean Water Act, before deciding whether the Okanogan PUD’s proposed power generating project can reduce Similkameen Falls to a trickle for more than eight months each year.
Two days after the hearing concludes, on April 21, elders of the Upper and Lower Similkameen Indian Bands will share the history of their people and their connection to Similkameen Falls. Similkameen Sunday will take place at the Community Cultural Center in Tonasket.
The appellants are Columbia Bioregional Education Project, Center for Environmental Law & Policy, North Cascades Conservation Council, American Whitewater, and Sierra Club. The groups are represented by attorneys Andrea Rodgers Harris and Kristen J. Larson.
Enloe Dam blocks the Similkameen River approximately four miles west of Oroville, Washington. The dam, which was originally built in the early 1900’s, has not generated hydropower since 1958. This is Okanogan PUD’s fourth attempt since the mid-1980’s to add power generation to the dam, and previous licensing efforts have failed due to poor economics and fish passage issues. The PUD’s proposal also ignores the Falls’ cultural and historical importance to the Upper and Lower Similkameen Indian Bands.
If approved, the power generating project proposed by the Okanogan PUD would reduce Similkameen Falls to a trickle, and undermine the aesthetic and recreational values of the Falls which are located immediately downstream of Enloe Dam. The beauty of the Falls against the stark landscape has made them the focal point of the newly developed Similkameen River Trail, which will become part of the 1,200-mile Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. The new river trail is projected to attract thousands of visitors to the area each year -- bringing up to $516,000 to the local economy. By contrast, an economic study completed in 2012 by Rocky Mountain Econometrics (www.rmecon.com) shows that if the PUD's project is implemented, the Okanogan region would lose $20 million over the term of the license.