The Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) commissioners have agreed to a process that could lead to a feasibility study of the removal of Enloe Dam.
The study would include a plan for managing permitting and liability and identifying projected costs and potential funding sources for dam removal. The commissioners signed a resolution supporting the process on July 25.
The resolution came in response to a detailed memo from the Water and Power Law Group PC sent to the PUD in May. The memo proposed an approach to information gathering to help make a decision about dam removal and included an overview of existing studies and research about Enloe, technical information about removal of other dams, and sample feasibility studies.
The resolution signed by the PUD commissioners notes that the district set out necessary criteria eight years ago for the PUD to consider dam removal. The PUD’s requirements specify that an agency must assume all responsibility and liability for dam removal and that there must be a firm source of funding. The district also requires research into the potential for fish habitat in the Similkameen River above the dam and in Canada.
Until the Water and Power Law Group proposal, the PUD hasn’t been able to support efforts by dam-removal proponents because they were “fragmented, non-comprehensive, and advocacy-based,” according to the resolution. Moving forward requires independent analyses that would meet a true public-interest test, it says.
The Water and Power Law Group memo recommends hiring an independent project manager and engineering firm to assess the complex components of dam removal, including potential contamination in sediment behind the dam, a plan for permitting and liability management, and identifying funding sources. The PUD commissioners agreed that this comprehensive approach would ultimately enable them to make a “go/no-go decision… regarding removal of Enloe Dam.”
Still, the process remains preliminary and next steps are unclear. “The Board finds that the process described in the Memo is consistent with the District’s criteria regarding proposals to engage in discussions regarding removal of Enloe Dam and desires to authorize District staff to collaborate with the Project Manager in undertaking the Feasibility Study described in the Memo,” the resolution says.
“District staff is authorized to collaborate with the Project Manager on the Design Phase of a Feasibility Study to evaluate removal of Enloe Dam, as such Enterprise is described in the [Water and Power Law Group] memo dated May 10, 2022, and … staff is further directed to provide progress updates to the Commission at regular intervals,” the resolution says.
It’s not clear who would hire a project manager or how the position would be funded. “Currently, the District can only speak to the memorandum, as supported by the Board’s recent resolution,” PUD Director of Regulatory and Environmental Affairs Jeri Timm said this week by email.
As set out in the resolution, the project manager must be acceptable to critical stakeholders and would be responsible for facilitating a process for input from stakeholders. The project manager would engage an engineering firm to serve as the prime contractor and to “prepare a project design that advances beyond conceptual to a material level of completion,” according to the resolution. The process must be an independent, credible approach that will withstand peer review.
Asked whether the PUD would have a role in engaging a project manager or engineering firm, Timm said, “Most of your questions are speculative and the District cannot answer them until efforts are made to move the process forward, as identified in the memorandum. There is no approved funding, so it difficult to say how the next steps could unfold.”
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 Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and the Similkameen Band in Canada, and to invigorate a recreation-based economy, according to a legacy fund spokesperson.
The dam, which hasn’t produced power in more than 50 years, is on the Similkameen River near Oroville. It is owned by the PUD.
Meanwhile, the PUD is undertaking required maintenance and safety-inspection work on Enloe. Contractors have completed construction that will allow thorough inspection of the structure by dewatering the dam face.
The next phase runs from Aug. 29 through Sept. 19, which includes preparations and the actual inspection of the dam face, toe and abutments, according to the PUD.
After completion of the construction necessary for the dewatering and inspection, the Similkameen Spur Trail reopened on July 29. It will remain open until Aug. 29, when it closes again for the inspections. The trail is expected to reopen after Sept. 19, and efforts will be made to open the trail on weekends during the closure period.
During the comprehensive dam-safety inspection, access will be restricted to both sides of Enloe Dam because of public-safety concerns. This closure is expected to last between three and five days, while the dam face is dewatered. There will be a designated area for public viewing during the inspection, although people will need to be dropped off or walk 2 miles from the Similkameen Spur trailhead.