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.
Although the appellants were pleased with the hearings board decision, they filed a motion for reconsideration last Friday (Aug. 2), asking the board not to allow aesthetic flows to come after those necessary for fish. They say that state water quality rules say conflicting uses must be accommodated without prioritizing one over another.
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.
“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. Enloe Dam is north of Oroville, near the Canadian border.
The PUD is still working on an update of the economic analysis of Enloe, said PUD General Manager John Grubich. The outcome of the challenge over water flows could have an impact on the economics of operating it, he said.
Ecology stressed that the board had affirmed 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 decision.
Flows part of federal license
The hearings board’s decision came just weeks after the PUD received a federal license to build new infrastructure and operate the dam.
PUD staff and attorneys have been reviewing the 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.
Because the federal license incorporates the Ecology permit for flows, the PUD has to wait until that issue is resolved before it can do an effective economic analysis, said Grubich.
“There are several ways for a license holder to say, ‘we’ve looked at the project and now we don’t want it,’ so there are really no time constraints,” said Grubich. The license requires that the PUD start construction within two years and complete it within five, although extensions are possible, he said.
Bowers called the hearings board 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.
“We just have to be very methodical as we go through our analysis, to be sure that this is the project that makes sense and that the economics are still there,” said Grubich. He said the PUD and commissioners are committed to a public process before borrowing money for Enloe, but that no meetings have been set.
The deadline for the PUD or intervenors to ask for a reconsideration of the federal license is this week. The PUD does not intend to ask for a reconsideration, but is waiting to see what actions are taken by intervenors, said Grubich.
Parties have 30 days to appeal the hearings board decision.