Work progressing on several fronts
Several efforts are underway to gather data and explore options that could help decide the future of Enloe Dam, which is owned by the Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD).
The dam hasn’t produced power since 1959, and the PUD commissioners voted in 2018 that reenergizing it wasn’t cost-effective.
Last week, the PUD commissioners heard a proposal for comprehensive research into options for the dam, including potential removal, from a California-based law firm that specializes in hydropower and water issues.
Meanwhile, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is moving ahead with research into biological, management and legal issues connected with the possible removal of the dam and restoration of the Similkameen River. The research was directed by the state Legislature, which appropriated $250,000 for it in this year’s budget.
WDFW has hired Ross Strategic, a consulting firm that specializes in environmental and energy issues. Ross Strategic is interviewing key stakeholders, including the PUD, the Colville Confederated Tribes, federal and state agencies, and organizations that work on water and conservation issues, said Michael Garrity, WDFW’s Division Manager for Energy, Water and Major Projects.
That information will be combined with a summary of data being gathered by state and federal agencies and tribal researchers in a report due to the Legislature this fall, Garrity said. The research includes an analysis of sediment samples and evaluation of the potential for habitat for endangered salmon in the Similkameen River watershed.
“At least we’ll be able to describe what’s known and unknown, and the potential barriers to successful dam removal, if the Legislature decides to pursue that,” Garrity said.
Because the report is due to the Legislature this fall and the funding is limited, one of the most helpful aspects of the report will be to describe what has and hasn’t been done and to lay out next steps. They hope to outline pros and cons of various scenarios, Garrity said.
Board hears proposal
The PUD board of commissioners heard a presentation by Richard Roos-Collins, a principal with the Water and Power Law Group PC, at their meeting last week. In May, Roos-Collins sent the PUD a detailed memo that outlines an approach to information gathering to make a decision about dam removal.
The 1,278-page memo includes an overview of existing studies and research about Enloe, technical information about other dam removals, and sample feasibility studies.
The Water and Power Law Group specializes in resolution of complex problems in the energy, environmental and hydropower sectors.
The law group prepared the memo under a contract with the Resources Legacy Fund, a California-based philanthropic nonprofit dedicated to finding solutions and securing funding for the environment and healthy communities. Their Open Rivers Fund became interested in Enloe because of the potential to open hundreds of miles of salmon habitat, support Tribal treaty rights for the Colvilles and the Similkameen Band in Canada, and to invigorate a recreation-based economy.
The law group looked at six dam removals that are comparable to Enloe, four of them in Washington, including the Elwha and Nooksack dams. Most of the nearly 2,000 dams that have been removed in the United States over the past 110 years have been much smaller and less complex than Enloe, they said.
The memo notes that the PUD has considered the possibility of dam removal since the 1960s, but that proposals haven’t satisfied the utility’s concerns about liability. The law group believes their approach to design, permitting and implementation would break through the inertia surrounding Enloe. That would include identifying a dam removal entity and financial and liability protections for the PUD, according to Roos-Collins.
Roos-Collins proposed that the PUD hire an individual or organization as project manager. The manager would raise money for a comprehensive feasibility study about dam removal and coordinate input from stakeholders. The study would include potential scenarios for dam removal and protections for downstream communities, Roos-Collins said.
Roos-Collins said that while he believes there’s a pathway to dam removal, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s feasible.
Roos-Collins estimated that it would cost between $1 million and $5 million to gather enough information for the PUD to make an informed decision about Enloe. The feasibility study would take two years to complete and permits for next steps on the dam would take another five years, he said.
Attendees at the PUD meeting from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Congressional Rep. Dan Newhouse’s office (R-4th Dist.), and the Colville Business Council offered their support and willingness to provide information for a feasibility study.
PUD staff and commissioners asked Roos-Collins how this approach would differ from past studies, concerned it would continue a “merry-go-round” with little tangible progress. They also wanted assurances that the study would be independent.
The PUD commissioners said they would discuss the law group proposal at a future meeting.