The Okanogan County Public Utility District in a letter dated Monday, Sept. 26 asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to accept the district’s offer to voluntarily surrender its preliminary permit to build the Shankers Bend Dam on the Similkameen River in north-central Washington.
The surrender petition can be found at:
The preliminary permit was issued by FERC on Dec. 18, 2008, and gave the PUD 36 months to conduct investigations and secure data necessary “to determine the feasibility of the proposed project and, if said project is found to be feasible, prepares an acceptable application for license.”
“The district has diligently pursued its studies and analysis of the option of developing and licensing the project, as detailed in the progress reports filed under this preliminary permit. Due to a variety of district concerns that become evident in the district’s studies of the potential project and also experience gained in the course of the ongoing licensing proceeding for Enloe Hydroelectric Project…, the district concludes that it would not be prudent to pursue the licensing of the project at this time,” the Okanogan County PUD’s letter says.
The proposed dam and associated facilities were to be located just upstream of the district’s Enloe Dam at approximately river mile 7.3 in what is commonly referred to as Shanker’s Bend. The Similkameen River is a tributary to the Okanogan River, which feeds into the Columbia.
The project was proposed for study in coordination with the state of Washington’s Columbia River Water Management Program. The 2006 Washington Legislature approved legislation to develop new water supplies and improve water management. The legislation included a commitment of $216 million.
In 2007, the Washington Department of Ecology provided $300,000 through the water management program for the PUD to conduct an appraisal level review of the site. The appraisal level analysis concluded that constructing any of the three dam height alternatives being considered on the Similkameen River were potentially viable from an engineering standpoint.
The Shanker’s Bend Project studied various alternatives including dam heights ranging from 90 to 260 feet. At 260 feet the dam will be approximately 1,200 feet long and impound an 18,000 acre reservoir with a storage capacity of 1.7 million acre-feet.
Environmental advocates criticized the proposal because of the prospect of flooding riparian habitat. They also protested the potential relicensing of Enloe without requiring fish passage,
"The Similkameen River is an international river and treasure," said John Osborn, a Spokane physician, board president of Center for Environmental Law and Policy and coordinator of Sierra Club's Columbia River Future project. "Not building the Shanker’s Bend dam is the right decision for taxpayers and the river." He noted that Canadian interests had also lobbied, and testified, against the proposal because the new dam would have also inundated lands north of the border.
The 156-mile-long river drains the east slope of the Cascade Mountains. Most of the 3,600 square mile watershed -- 90 percent -- is in Canada. The Similkameen River flows into the U.S. section of the Okanagan River south of Osoyoos Lake, which straddles the border. CELP and other groups have asked that passage for salmon and steelhead be required at Enloe Dam as part of any new FERC license, or that the long idle dam be removed.
"Enloe Dam is the remaining obstacle for salmon," said Osborn. "Earlier this month we watched dam removal begin on the Elwha River in western Washington. The Enloe Dam also needs to come down. Enloe Dam removal has long been proposed to help mitigate for salmon run extinctions and damage from massive dams on the mainstem Columbia River."
Enloe Dam was completed in 1920 by Eugene Enloe to serve the mining community of Nighthawk upstream from the project and the crossroads town of Oroville downstream, near the Canadian border. It was purchased by the PUD in 1945.
Due to obsolescence of the generating equipment and the availability of cheaper power from other sources, the PUD ceased operations in 1959. The facilities have since sunk into extreme disrepair.
Since the late 1970s the PUD has sought and received operating licenses that would have allow restoration of the facility, but those licenses were all subsequently rescinded by FERC over disagreements with respect to upstream fish passage at Enloe Dam.
The final application now under consideration, which was submitted in August 2008, focuses on providing downstream habitat improvements for fish rather than providing passage to the upper reaches of the river. That process is now in its final stages.