By MARCY STAMPER
A state board has agreed with a coalition of environmental groups that the PUD’s plans to significantly reduce water flows over Enloe Dam and a nearby waterfall may not be adequate to protect both aesthetics and fish.
The Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) has ordered the district to monitor the effects of the low flows during the first three years of operations at the dam.
The PCHB ruled July 23 that, in allowing the Okanogan County Public Utility District to divert most of the water during the summer and fall to generate power, the Department of Ecology had not adequately modeled the impact such a low flow of water would have on aesthetics and recreation. More water would spill over the dam and falls during other seasons, when the river runs higher.
If the flow levels allowed by Ecology are shown to protect conditions for fish and aesthetics, the Ecology permit would be confirmed; otherwise, the permit would have to be revised to require more water to run over the dam and falls, said the board.
Ecology and the PUD based their decision about how much water must be left to spill over the falls – a fraction of the average monthly flows – on the amount required for power generation and for fish, which the hearings board called improper.
“Selection of a minimum flow in this manner results in Ecology considering the impact of the aesthetic flows on the operation of the [Enloe] Project, rather than considering the Project’s impact on the aesthetic values of the flows. This is not the proper standard,” wrote the board.
Because the dam has not operated for more than 50 years, people have grown accustomed to seeing water spill over the dam and over Similkameen Falls, and these aesthetic values must be taken into account in granting permission for the new dam, according to the hearings board.
“The board finds that the number of people visiting the site is a factor and an element to consider in determining the level of flows for aesthetic values,” the hearings board said.
“Statewide, this is a great win – it requires Ecology to address aesthetics and recreational issues, regardless of where a river is,” said Rich Bowers, Pacific Northwest Coordinator for the Hydropower Reform Coalition, for the appellants.
“We’d like to stress that the board affirmed the issuance of the [permit] …. This means the PUD can move forward if they want to and Ecology will work with the PUD to implement the conditions as outlined in the order,” said Ecology in a statement about the hearings board’s decision.
The board’s decision comes just weeks after the PUD received a federal license to build new infrastructure and operate the dam, which is near Oroville.
PUD staff and attorneys are reviewing the Pollution Board’s ruling and the federal license, according to Dan Boettger, the PUD’s director of regulatory and environmental affairs. Boettger said they are pleased the review periods for the two documents coincide so that they can study the ramifications individually and in combination.
Bowers called the decision one more element of uncertainty regarding the economic feasibility of the Enloe project, and urged the PUD to talk about alternatives to the dam, particularly in light of ratepayer frustration with rising power costs and the utility’s expenditures.
Parties have 10 days to ask the hearings board to reconsider its decision and 30 days to appeal it.