Environmental groups appeal Ecology permit for Enloe Dam project

OROVILLE – This week several national, state and local environmental groups appealed a decision by the state Department of Ecology that would allow the licensing of the proposed Enloe Dam hydropower project on the Similkameen River to move forward.
The project, proposed by Okanogan County PUD, would reduce Similkameen Falls to a trickle, according to these groups, which are appealing Ecology’s Water Quality Certification Permit which was issued in mid-July.
“The falls are located immediately downstream of the dam and could potentially attract thousands of visitors to the area each year, bringing up to$516,000 to the local economy,” they state in a press release announcing the appeal last Monday.
The groups appealed the decision because they say Ecology failed to adequately consider the water quality and aesthetic impacts of the project, which are an important part of the state’s water quality standards under the Clean Water Act.
Okanogan County PUD is reserving the right to comment after staff at the utility has had more time to study the appeal.
“Because it is litigation, we won’t have a comment at this time, not until we’ve had a chance to look at it,” said Dan Boettger, the utility’s director of Regulatory and Environmental Affairs.
Enloe Dam blocks the Similkameen River approximately four miles west of Oroville. The dam, which was originally built in the early 1900’s, has not generated hydropower since 1958. The dam ceased operation in 1959 because the equipment became obsolete. This is Okanogan PUD’s fourth attempt since the mid-1980’s to add power generation to the dam, and previous licensing efforts have failed due to poor economics and fish passage issues, the groups say.
They go on to cite an economic study completed in 2012 by Rocky Mountain Econometrics (www.rmecon.com) they say shows the project is economically unsound and that the Okanogan region would lose $20 million over the term of the license while simultaneously dewatering the falls.
“The falls are important to this community,” said Jere Gillespie with the Columbia Bioregional Education Project.
Her group, which is based in North Okanogan County, filed the appeal along with the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, the North Cascades Conservation Council, American Whitewater and Sierra Club.
“Ecology’s decision ignores not only the Clean Water Act, but the tremendous public and economic benefit of the falls for tourism, aesthetics and recreation,” Gillespie adds.
“The beauty of the falls against the stark landscape has made them the focal point of the newly developed Similkameen River Trail, which will become part of the 1,200-mile Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail. If the dam is reactivated under Ecology’s present certification, the viewpoint of this new trail will be a dried up reach of boulders. Ecology’s decision also ignores the falls’ cultural and historical importance to the region’s First Nations and Native American Tribes,” stated the group in their press release.
“Ecology acknowledges in its certification that aesthetics are a designated use under state law for the Similkameen River, but fails to protect the beauty of the falls,” said Thomas O’Keefe of American Whitewater.
Average natural flows in June are 7,580 cubic feet per second, and fall to 500 cubic feet per second during the driest month of September. Ecology’s certification allows for flows of 10 cubic feet per second – 50 times lower than the lowest natural flow.
“This would have a significant impact on the falls and water quality downstream,” said O’Keefe.
“Ecology cannot ignore its responsibility to protect aesthetics on behalf of all citizens,” said Suzanne Skinner, with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy. “Allowing this utility to dry up Similkameen Falls sets a terrible precedent that ignores the law and is bad policy for the people of Washington State.”
The waterfalls advocates are represented by attorneys Andrea Rodgers Harris and Kristen J. Larson. The Water Quality Certification permit can be viewed online at: www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wq/ferc/existingcerts/EnloeOrder9007401Cert.pdf