River advocacy groups will return to the courtroom on Friday, April 3, to challenge a decision that could reduce Similkameen Falls in Northeastern Washington to a trickle. The Falls, located on the Similkameen River just downstream of the abandoned Enloe Dam, are a popular scenic attraction and have important cultural and ecological values. Okanogan Public Utility District is currently seeking to re-energize Enloe Dam, although uncertainties surrounding the amount of water available for the project raise questions about its future costs and viability.
The Center for Environmental Law & Policy, American Whitewater and North Cascades Conservation Council are challenging a decision by the Washington Department of Ecology to issue a water right to the Okanogan PUD for the renewed operation of Enloe Dam. A Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) decision in 2013 allows Ecology and PUD to delay required aesthetics studies until after the project is completed, raising concerns that there is not enough water for both hydropower production and aesthetic flows.
“Ecology is required to determine whether granting a water right will harm the public interest before issuing it. Here, they are deferring that decision until after the project is built, something they cannot do when allocating public water resources” said Andrea Rodgers, an attorney representing the river groups.
Economic studies show that re-energizing Enloe Dam doesn’t make financial sense, and will cost local ratepayers even more money if aesthetic and minimum flows are required. “Ultimately, the PUD doesn’t know how much water they will actually have to work with to generate power,” said Thomas O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest stewardship director for American Whitewater. “This puts a huge amount of ratepayer dollars at risk.”
Despite the economic uncertainty, the PUD has stated that it plans to move forward with re-energizing the dam, which has sparked backlash from ratepayers. “To avoid this monumental loss, OPUD has no choice but to pass the costs along to the ratepayers,” said Jere Gillespie of the Columbia River Bioregional Education Project. “If Enloe proceeds, costs to construct, maintain and operate, and later remove the dam, would place in debt the rate-paying families $180 million over 50 years.”
“The new water right for the dam fails to protect instream flows as required by the Similkameen River rule,” said Rachael Paschal Osborn. “This directly contradicts a 2013 Supreme Court decision regarding the Skagit River, holding that these rules are ‘water rights for the river’ and may be violated only in the most narrow of circumstances.”
Oral argument will be held on April 3, 2015, 1:30 p.m. at Thurston County Superior Court, 2000 Lakeridge Drive SW, Building 2, Olympia, Wash. The river groups are all members of the Hydropower Reform Coalition, and are represented by public interest attorneys Andrea Rodgers and Rachael Paschal Osborn.
Andrea Rodgers, Attorney (Western Environmental Law Center), 206.696-2851,
John Osborn (Center for Envt’l Law & Policy) 509.939-1290,
Thomas O’Keefe (American Whitewater) 425.417-9012,
Rich Bowers (Hydropower Reform Coalition) 360.303-9625,