Posted 2011-10-30 15:40:52 by Bryan Swan
While in a serendipitous coincidence three major dams in Washington are being removed right now (Condit Dam on the White Salmon, and the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams on the Elwha River), the Snohomish County Public Utility District is seeking to build more dams, specifically targetting several waterfalls as locations to do so.
The PUD just began operation of the first new dam in Washington State in decades, a relatively small project on Youngs Creek near Monroe capable of producing (at peak flow) 7.5 megawatts of electricity - enough to power about 5000 homes. The Youngs Creek project was built well above Youngs Creek Falls, which serves as a natural barrier to migrating fish, and didn't have a terribly sigifnicant impact on the surrounding forest. The Youngs Creek project was done right.
What is now being proposed by the PUD at other locations is entirely different. Licences have been applied for to put a 30 megawatt facility in place along the South Fork Skykomish River, with a dam above Canyon Falls and the powerhouse adjacent to Sunset Falls. The proposed project would house a 19-foot diameter tunnel to flume the river to the powerhouse. This would certainly allow for a minimum flow to be sent over the falls, but the kicker is that the project's capacity would be approximately 2500 cubic feet per second - which is greater than the mean annual flow for the river at this point. This means that while Canyon and Sunset Falls would still flow during the winter months, they may be entirely dry during the summer under this proposal. If such a setup was instituted at Snoqualmie Falls the public would be in uproar, I think the only reason the PUD might get away with this is because Sunset Falls is not a frequently visited waterfall.
In addition to the project at Sunset Falls, the PUD also wants to dam both Calligan Creek and Hancock Creek on the Snoqualmie Tree Farm - both in King County! Hancock Timber would presumably lease the land to the PUD, but could conceivably be compensated with a portion of revenue as well. In the process we would lose (or at least see greatly reduced) four more waterfalls - Calligan Creek Falls being potentially the best waterfall on the tree farm, and three as yet undocumented waterfalls along Hancock Creek.
Ultimately, in the case of Calligan and Hancock Creeks, because the waterfalls lie on private land there isn't much the public can do other than voice their opinion. But because the project along the Skykomish River lies partially on public land, we do have a say. And this is where things get tricky. Clean energy projects should definitely be pursued and as water is something we have in abundance in the Pacific Northwest, hydro power is the most logical method of producing clean energy. But at the same time sacrificing some of the best waterfalls in the region should not be necessary. We strongly urge those of you who care to make known that you do not want to see Sunset Falls destroyed.