By Dan Hansen
Federal regulators have dimmed hopes of firing up an aged hydroelectric dam in Eastern Washington.
But the future of Enloe Dam remains uncertain, as it has been since 1959, when the dam last produced electricity. Meanwhile, 145 miles of potential spawning habitatnremains unreachable to endangered salmon and steelhead.
Late last month, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission denied a permit. The Okanogan County Public Utility District needs to begin generating electricity at Enloe.
The concrete dam, which was built in 1929, could generate about 4 megawatts of electricity. That’s about 1 percent of the output of each of Washington’s four Snake River dams.
Six stories tall and 100 yards wide, Enloe spans the Similkameen River, a tributary of the Okanogan, which flows into the Columbia. The National Marine Fisheries Service has identified the Similkameen as critical for the recovery of Eastern Washington steelhead.
The PUD may appeal FERC’s Feb.23 ruling said manager Harlan Warner. The issue will be discussed at a board of directors meeting on Tuesday, he said.
Nothing is settled and it probably won’t be for a while,” said Warner.
FERC’s ruling is the latest chapter in a 24 year saga that has cost the PUD more than $1 million.
The PUD shut down the dam because it could buy electricity cheaper from federal dams than it cost to keep Enloe operating. In 1976, congress provided $1 million for removing the dam as a salmon restoration effort.
That same year, PUD official asked to have the dam relicensed. Twice since then, FERC has agreed to the license. Each time, the agency warned the PUD that it could be required to equip the dam with a fish ladder sometime in the future.
Without the ladder fish that swim more than 500 miles from the ocean are stopped nine miles up the Similkameen.
The PUD and federal biologists debate whether salmon and steelhead ever spawned above the dam, which was built on the falls. Indian lore and some accounts from settlers say the fish could not climb the falls.
The PUD appealed the conditions FERC placed on the license, asking for a guarantee the PUD would not have to pay for a ladder. The ladder would turn a barely affordable $12 million project into an unaffordable $17 million project, they argued.
The fisheries service also appealed, asking that the ladder be required immediately if the dam is fired up again.
Federal biologists argue that acrobatic steelhead, in particular, could have climbed the falls. Whether or not they did, few other places in Eastern Washington provide as much spawning potential as the upper Similkameen, they say.
Instead of ruling on the appeals, FERC withdrew the license, saying the project had become clouded by Salmon restoration efforts and likely could not produce enough electricity to cover operation costs.
Scott Carlton, a Fisheries Service biologist, said there’s no telling what will happen now. Even if the PUD decides not to appeal FERC’s decision, that doesn’t ensure that the dam will fall or will be equipped with a fish ladder.
Complicating matters is the fact that the river flows much of its length in British Columbia.
B.C. officials say they doubt salmon ever reached the upper river. They oppose construction of a fish ladder, saying hatchery steelhead and salmon could spread disease to native Canadian trout.
U.S. biologists say the threat of disease is remote.
March 3, 2000