The owner of an unpermitted, private dam that
failed last year at the headwaters of Rattlesnake Creek in southeast
Washington’s Asotin County has agreed to a multi-million-dollar restoration
When the dam broke on the Bonasa Breaks Ranch
it released approximately 9.4 million gallons of water. The rush of water
caused significant damage to the environment, and also public and private
Bonasa Breaks Ranch, LLC, also agreed to pay
$15,000 for failing to secure the required permits to increase the dam’s size,
and $100,000 for violating the state’s water quality laws.
Rattlesnake Creek is an important tributary to
the Grand Ronde River and both provide habitat for fish protected by the
Endangered Species Act. Summer steelhead use the creek for spawning, rearing
The Washington Department of Ecology worked
with a technical team that consists of federal, state, local and private environmental
experts to develop a plan to restore more than six miles of the creek.
Restoration is estimated to cost $2.5 million over the next 10 years. If Bonasa
Breaks fails to complete the work outlined in the plan, additional penalties
“The failure of this private dam severely
damaged miles of habitat used by endangered summer steelhead,” said Water
Quality Program Manager Heather Bartlett. “The dam break caused erosion, loss
of thousands of mature trees that provided shade to cool water temperature and
sent boulders downstream and blocked migrating fish. Restoring Rattlesnake
Creek is essential.”
Bonasa Breaks hired Rio Applied Science and
Engineering to begin removing fish barriers, adding structures to provide
refuge for juvenile fish, removing invasive plants, and planting native trees
Last fall, Bonasa Breaks also worked
cooperatively with Ecology and other agencies to reduce the dam to its historic
size and stabilize it to prevent another catastrophic release of water.
“It’s vital that dam owners work with us to
ensure the safety of people and property located downstream,” said Joe Witczak,
Dam Safety manager. “Our dam safety engineers and staff could have helped the
owner make the necessary changes to avoid this failure.”
In Washington, a dam owner is legally responsible
to design, construct and operate their dam in a safe and proper manner.
“We appreciate that Bonasa Breaks has already
begun work to manage invasive weeds and secure permission from downstream
landowners to plan and implement restoration work,” Bartlett said.