When: Wednesday, April 20 at 9:30am
Where: Seattle – Washington State Court of Appeals, District 1; One Union Square, 600 University St.
What: Oral argument in a challenge to the Washington State Department of Ecology for issuing water rights that would nearly completely dewater a segment of the Similkameen River while burdening ratepayers with substantial costs.
Plaintiffs: Center for Environmental Law & Policy, American Whitewater, and North Cascades Conservation Council
Defendants: Washington State Department of Ecology, Public Utility District No. 1 of Okanogan County, Washington, and Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board
Background: Enloe Dam is a cement plug blocking the free-flowing Similkameen River in north central Washington state and British Columbia. The dam has not generated power since the 1950s, with prior efforts to re-energize the dam being rejected by regulators. The local Public Utility District, Okanogan PUD, once again proposes to electrify the old Enloe Dam, almost completely dewatering an important stretch of the river, including Similkameen Falls in violation of Washington water law.
Economic studies, including one by the Okanogan PUD itself, conclude that the project would result in substantial financial losses. The economic risks increase when one considers the fact that the water rights to operate the project violate a forty-year-old regulation that protects instream flows for people and fish. If Okanogan PUD were to move forward they could spend millions of ratepayer dollars to build a project without water to operate it. Ratepayers in the Oroville area have vigorously opposed the PUD proposal for financial and other reasons.
Despite the fact that a legally required study to assess the impacts of the project on aesthetic and recreational resources has not been completed, the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) issued a water right to the PUD to divert water from the Similkameen River. River advocates challenged the state’s decision to exploit the public’s waters for an economic loser of a project. On Wednesday, Division 1 of the Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in the case. The attorney for the river advocates is Andrea Rodgers of the Western Environmental Law Center.
On the Pollution Control Hearings Board (board) correctly requiring an aesthetic analysis of dewatering a river — and then incorrectly approving water rights that would dewater the river:
“Ecology granted a water right for this project at the expense of bedrock principles of Washington water law,” said Andrea Rodgers the Western Environmental Law Center attorney representing the coalition groups. “In particular, the board ruled that it was not necessary to gather information about the aesthetic and recreational impacts of the project until after the hydro project is built. Ecology has put the cart before the horse and in doing so broke laws that protect our state’s precious water resources.”
On the importance of the Similkameen River to the people of Washington state:
“The Similkameen River is a valuable resource to the community for recreation, scenic values, and fish and wildlife. As with other rivers across the state, recognition of the importance of flows for aesthetic and recreational purposes is important to our organization. We will continue to press legal issues that protect the Similkameen River and Falls as multi-use public resource given the significance of this decision for rivers statewide,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director with American Whitewater.
On the statewide significance of case:
“The water permitting process is designed to make sure that the public’s waters are allocated wisely and protected from over-exploitation. In this case, the Department of Ecology issued a permit that would remove nearly all water from this stretch of the river without ensuring that aesthetic and recreational values would be protected. The Enloe Dam appeal sends a message of statewide significance that the Department of Ecology must promote balanced use of Washington’s waterways,” said Dan Von Seggern with the Center for Environmental Law & Policy.
– Enloe Dam | Similkameen Falls (CELP)