The Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) has been meeting with federal and state agencies about property ownership, water and fish, but the first priority in determining the future of Enloe Dam is a thorough dam-safety inspection.
When the PUD commissioners followed a staff recommendation in November and elected not to electrify Enloe Dam, they gave staff 120 days to consider other options for the long-mothballed hydropower facility on the Similkameen River.
Those four months lapsed last week, but there are so many complexities that due diligence could take years, said Jeri Timm, the PUD’s director of regulatory and environmental affairs. Timm gave a progress report on Enloe to the PUD commissioners on Monday (March 26).
One of the few certainties regarding Enloe is that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license to re-energize the dam terminates after July 9, said Timm. Once the license expires, the Washington Department of Ecology will assume oversight of dam safety, she said.
The next step in evaluating dam safety is a detailed inspection, which will require dewatering so engineers can examine the face of the dam. They may have to erect a coffer dam to contain sediment, said Timm.
The PUD’s goal is to dewater the dam this fall, but if engineering and permitting requirements can’t be completed in time, the inspection would be postponed until next fall, since it needs to be done when water flows are low, said Timm. Although water levels are forecast to be particularly low this year, it may not be possible to fulfill all requirements and permits this year, said Timm. One consideration is protecting endangered fish downstream of the dam.
The commissioners authorized two contracts this week for a total of $439,000 in conjunction with the dewatering and safety inspection.
A complicated component of Enloe’s future hinges on ascertaining the ownership of the land submerged under the dam, said Timm. The historic understanding is that the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) owns the land the dam sits on. BLM is reviewing applicable records, said Timm.
BLM is one of the PUD’s closest partners on Enloe and they’ve already had several meetings. Nevertheless, “it’s a federal agency and we are only one of BLM’s many problems – and it’s very complicated,” said Timm. “Honestly, we anticipate that process taking months, if not years.”
Because there are still so many uncertainties surrounding Enloe, “PUD staff recommends that the board refrains from committing to a course of action with regard to the future of the Enloe Dam facility until the district fully understands the regulatory parameters it must abide by,” Timm told the commissioners.
The PUD has updated state and federal fish and wildlife agencies, the Colville Confederated Tribes, and the Washington Department of Natural Resources. The utility also talked with the Okanogan County commissioners about the Similkameen Trail, which runs along the river.
Timm reminded the commissioners that the PUD is willing to consider proposals for Enloe by other entities, as long as they keep the best interests of the PUD and its ratepayers in mind.
Timm promised another update when they know more about dam safety and BLM’s findings.