The Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) has thrown its support behind an effort to obtain $2.2 million for a feasibility study of the removal of Enloe Dam.
The PUD is one of 11 entities that provided letters of support for the competitive grant application for money available through the 2021 federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The application for the Enloe Dam Removal Project Planning and Feasibility Assessment was submitted last week by Trout Unlimited, which is heading up the effort in partnership with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation.
The infrastructure law allocated $400 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for fish-passage barrier removal, said Warren Colyer, Western Water & Habitat Program Director for Trout Unlimited and the team lead for the Enloe feasibility study.
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.
The Enloe study would take two years. It starts with a comprehensive and objective feasibility study. It would develop design alternatives for dam removal and then take engineering to the 30% level for the preferred alternative so they can produce a cost estimate, according to the project summary submitted to NOAA.
The proposal also includes risk assessment, a liability-management plan, and public and stakeholder involvement. It would fund an analysis of sediment behind the dam, of fish habitat that could become available if the dam were removed, and research into water quality in the Similkameen River.
The study would be an objective evaluation of all alternatives, from leaving the dam in place to partial removal to complete removal. The proposed alternatives would go through an extensive environmental review by agencies, tribes and the public, according to the proposal.
If the study results in a recommendation of partial or complete dam removal, additional funds would have to be raised for the actual removal, Colyer said.
The NOAA money will be allocated over five years. Most of the funding is for conservation groups and nongovernmental organizations, but 15% has been designated for tribal entities. Because of the significant involvement of tribes from the United States and Canada, the same application is being submitted to both funding streams, Colyer said.
The PUD’s letter of support, signed by General Manager Steve Taylor, cites a resolution signed in July by the PUD commissioners supporting a comprehensive feasibility study to evaluate the potential removal of Enloe Dam. 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 PUD agreed to the partnership with Trout Unlimited for a comprehensive, objective and science-driven study that addresses the PUD’s interests and “legitimate questions,” Colyer said.
Although some of the applicants have expressed support for removal of Enloe, the assessment will provide adequate information for a decision about whether it’s feasible to remove the dam, Colyer said. Trout Unlimited considers the PUD a partner in the effort to obtain money for this next step. “Their interests need to be represented and carried forward,” he said.
Trout Unlimited has supported dam removal as a way of restoring habitat to help with salmon recovery, Lisa Pelly, Director of Trout Unlimited’s Washington Water Project, told the Methow Valley News earlier this year.
Removal of Enloe and restoration of the Similkameen River could allow access to more than 300 miles of habitat for threatened and endangered salmon, largely in British Columbia. It could provide a substantial increase in steelhead production and ensure the existence of this species in the Okanogan River Basin, where numbers of returning natural-origin fish have been very low in recent years, according to the Enloe Dam Working Group.
The grant application notes that some feasibility work has already been done, including sediment sampling and analysis, evaluation of potential spawning and rearing habitat for salmon in the Similkameen watershed, and consultation with stakeholders.
A decision from NOAA on the funding is expected in December or January. The feasibility study and related research would be done in 2023 and 2024, Colyer said.
If the study is funded, Trout Unlimited would hire engineers and experts on liability and risk management. Colyer would oversee the project and serve as the primary point of contact with the PUD.
In addition to the PUD and the Colvilles, letters of support came from the Lower and Upper Similkameen Bands in British Columbia, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the Washington Department of Ecology, the Okanagan Nation Alliance, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Province of British Columbia’s Fish and Wildlife Section, the Resources Legacy Fund, and the Enloe Working Group.
Another study by WDFW is already underway. The Washington state budget allocated $250,000 for WDFW to analyze biological, management and legal issues connected with the possible removal of Enloe Dam and restoration of the Similkameen River.