More information needed before recommendations
Staff of the Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) have been talking with state and federal agencies to understand their options for Enloe Dam.
In November, the PUD commissioners decided Enloe Dam was not economically feasible and gave staff 120 days to consider other options for the long-mothballed hydropower facility on the Similkameen River. That included exploring “the legal, political, environmental and financial issues related to the site,” according to the PUD.
One of the key players in this process is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which issued a license to the PUD to re-energize the dam. Discussions with FERC were delayed by the 35-day government shutdown in December and January, said Sheila Corson, community relations coordinator for the PUD. The FERC license remains active but expires in July.
PUD staff are hoping to report their initial findings on Enloe to the district’s commissioners in March, said Corson. That update may be a progress report with still-unanswered questions, as opposed to a formal recommendation, she said.
Some ratepayers have urged the PUD to form a stakeholder group to investigate alternatives for Enloe. Because PUD staff is still consulting regulatory agencies, it would be premature to convene a stakeholder group, said Corson.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which owns the land Enloe sits on, said in a 2015 letter that if the PUD decides to decommission the dam, the right-of-way agreement requires the PUD to remove the dam and all related structures and to restore the land to its original condition. Part of the current investigation is to see if leaving the dam in place, is an option.
As part of the evaluation of Enloe Dam, PUD General Manager Steve Taylor and several staff members have met with state legislators. Taylor also briefed the Okanogan County commissioners about Enloe earlier this month.
The Similkameen River is at its lowest recorded level since 1929. That low water level allowed PUD staff to observe parts of the concrete face of Enloe that are typically obstructed, according to Jeri Timm, the PUD’s director of regulatory and environmental affairs.
The PUD and Okanogan County are formalizing an agreement for the county’s assistance with alarms and a video feed that monitor the condition of Enloe Dam, said Mike Worden, chief deputy of special operations and communications with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office.
The alarm would alert the PUD to anything unusual concerning water flow, said Worden. The county has been assisting the PUD for several years, but has never been compensated, he said.
There has never been an emergency at the dam, but there are occasionally false positives, typically connected with a dirty sensor. Sometimes a log stuck on the dam triggers an alarm, said Worden.
The arrangement with the Sheriff’s Office is “a critical component of the Enloe Dam Emergency Action Plan and as part of that effort the District requested to formalize the monitoring arrangement with a contract,” said Corson in a statement.
The actual monitoring won’t change, but it will be clarified in writing. The PUD will compensate the Sheriff’s Office for its costs, said Corson.