By Marcy Stamper
After decades of deliberation over whether to rebuild Enloe Dam, the Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) has signed a contract for the first phase of design for the 9-megawatt hydropower project.
This month, the PUD board of commissioners authorized interim General Manager Don Coppock to sign a $1.8-million contract with Max J. Kuney Company of Spokane, in partnership with Tetra Tech Inc. of Bellevue, to begin design of the project and to set costs and a construction schedule. Enloe is on the Similkameen River near Oroville.
The PUD received a license in 2013 from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to re-energize Enloe, which has not generated power in 60 years. After the two-year deadline from FERC to begin construction passed, the PUD applied for and received a stay from FERC earlier this year.
“My view is that re-energizing Enloe isn’t a power-generation issue; it’s a cost-mitigation issue,” said PUD Commissioner Bill Colyar. Colyar, appointed last fall to replace retiring commissioner Steve Houston, said during his interview for commissioner that Enloe would not produce a significant amount of power and that he was concerned about how long it would take for the PUD to recoup its investment in the dam.
In an interview last week about the decision to issue the design contract for Enloe, Colyar said removing the dam has the potential of being “hugely expensive.” Because the PUD doesn’t know the cost of any remediation that might be necessary, estimates for removal range from $20 million to $1 billion, he said. Colyar predicted it would cost significantly less to reenergize the dam.
The PUD intends to build a new river intake upstream of the existing dam, a 9-megawatt hydroelectric plant, steel penstocks to divert water to the plant, and a channel to return water flow to the river downstream of the dam. The PUD will also build a new substation and connection to the utility’s existing transmission system.
In addition to the hydroelectric plant, the Enloe project includes improvements to public-recreation facilities in the area and new fish-rearing facilities.
Enloe’s is anticipated to generate an estimated 45 gigawatt hours a year, the annual energy consumption of 3,600 homes, according to the PUD.
American Whitewater, Columbiana, the Center for Environmental Law and Policy and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals over Enloe in March, alleging that FERC didn’t have the authority to grant the PUD additional time to begin construction. The groups contend that FERC should have allowed the coalition and the public to provide input on the stay because of additional costs of Enloe not contemplated at the time of FERC’s license. The conservation groups also cite uncertainties about water adequacy.
The coalition of conservation groups has been fighting the re-energization of Enloe for years, urging the PUD to remove the dam instead and return the Similkameen River to a free-flowing waterway. The PUD has considered dam removal but has said it has been unable to find an entity that would take on complete responsibility for dam removal and associated environmental impacts.
There is considerable sediment backed up behind the current dam and there has not been a thorough analysis of what’s in the sediment. A history of mining in the surrounding area has raised questions about chemicals in the sediment.
The coalition estimates that removing the dam would cost $35 million.
Last year, the National Marine Fisheries Service asked FERC to consider the impact the dam would have on endangered steelhead, which have been observed jumping at the base of the dam.
The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Lower Similkameen Indian Band of British Columbia also called for removal of Enloe to restore the Similkameen River to its “historic and natural condition.”
Colyar said it is his understanding that if the PUD doesn’t re-energize Enloe, FERC and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which owns the land the dam sits on, would require removal rather than allow the dam to remain on the river in its current non-functional state.
The PUD acquired Enloe Dam in 1945 but has not produced power there since 1959, when less-expensive power from the Bonneville Power Administration reached the area.
The PUD began the current license-application process with FERC a dozen years ago. The utility previously considered re-energizing Enloe Dam in the 1980s and 1990s, but rescinded those licenses because of economic conditions and uncertainty over fish passage.
The initial design contract will provide firm numbers to help the commissioners make future decisions about Enloe, said Colyar. “We will have the design and cost and will be deeply involved with the process — it won’t be a surprise. We’ll know the cost and the reasons for the cost,” said Colyar.
With the “hard, cold facts” he’s learned since joining the commission, Colyar said he supports this course of action on Enloe. But Colyar added, “We’re not done yet. I wouldn’t want to give anybody the impression that the final decision has been made. We will know more in October. This isn’t over.”