Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Thoughts on the Skykomish Hydropower Project


Since we first posted the link to the Save The Sky River two weeks ago, we've had some conversations with local biologists, looked at the facts and determined that with proper regulatory oversight the project probably wont have a major impact on wild fish in the South Fork Skykomish. The fact is, while we're concerned about new hydroelectric development the legal mandate from the ESA and state regulations means that the project should be held to the highest biological standards. The reality is, we live in an energy hungry society, and there is an urgent need to find energy sources that do not contribute to climate change.

Run of river hydro has the potential to be a viable source of clean energy if the industry is held to an exceedingly high regulatory standard. In BC we've seen how damaging the industry can be when it is developed with a total disregard for anadromous fish. For example the Kokish River project plans to divert water from 9 of the rivers 10 fish bearing kilometers posing an existential threat to the river's already fragile fish populations. But, when done correctly, these projects can tap an important source of clean, affordable energy.

The regulatory landscape in the US is very different, and the age of simply throwing up a dam, disregarding fish passage and hoping for the best is over. The fact is any new hydroelectric project will be subject to intense scrutiny by both the state and federal regulators. It will be required to include state of the art fish screens to prevent mortality to juvenile salmonids, and meet stringent in stream flow requirements. Snohomish PUD has also committed to funding a much needed replacement of the aging fish trap used to transport anadromous fish above Sunset Falls, and the operation of the trap throughout the life of the project.

We've been extremely encouraged by the response of the community to this and other issues and it is very clear that there is group of committed local advocates who are concerned about the future of the Skykomish. But we can't fight everything, and in doing so in this case, we may actually be shooting ourselves in the foot, expending valuable time and energy fighting a project with minimal impacts to fish that would provide a large source of sustainable energy. The project is in the very preliminary stages and alot of decisions have yet to be made, so lets make sure that the project is held to the highest environmental standards, and that it doesn't pose a threat to wild salmonids in the Skykomish. In doing so we can ensure that Snohomish PUD can meet the energy needs of the community with green energy while protecting the future of wild fish in the Sky.

Lots more information on Snohomish PUD's website:

http://www.snopud.com/PowerSupply/hydro/sunsetfalls.ashx?p=1956

3 comments:

Bert said...

Can you explain your moderation process? A previous post on this entry has not appeared yet. Did you receive it? Do you review it? Was it not acceptable?

Osprey said...

Hi Bert,

The comment was perfectly acceptable and made a valid point but it was accidentally deleted. Please feel free to make comments in the future, we do moderate the comments but we allow everything that isn't complete spam.

The Osprey

Friends of Sky River said...

Thank you for the rational discussion about the benefits of upgrading the WDFW trap and haul facility. The trap and haul upgrades are badly needed and SnoPUD's mitigation offer presents tempting motivation to look the other way on this project. I also appreciate you pointing out that significant oversight is available to ensure a bad project will not be built.

But ratepayers are funding this project so we need to look at the return on investment.

The PUD expects to generate 14 aMW from the project, which would cost approximately $150 million to build. By contrast, a planned $300 million generator upgrade for Grand Coulee’s third powerhouse will provide 240 aMW according to the Seattle DJC. PUD’s power would be 8 1/2 times more expensive! And – the Grand Coulee upgrade DOES qualify under I-937. SnoPUD has a similar significant upgrade opportunity at their Jackson powerhouse. The Sunset Falls project would supply approx. 1-3% of SnoPUD's total load.

There are a great number of environmental concerns which, as you pointed out, will thankfully receive intense scrutiny and attention. But I'd like to point out that this project is proposed to be built adjacent to an alluvial peninsula. The South Fork Skykomish has normal flows that range between <1000 cfs at low water to >60,000 cfs at flood. There is a very real risk that SnoPUD's project will cause the river channel to change course over the low peninsula on the flood making the project instantly obsolete. Yes, the weir can be deflated during flood, but the 140 foot x 175 foot x 45 foot tall intake structure and peninsula abutment will be a very considerable constriction of the river's flow that cannot be lowered. Notably, neither SnoPUD nor anyone else has ever attempted to build a hydro project with these site conditions.

The South Fork Skykomish enjoys several layers of protection from Hydropower development: Washington Scenic River designation, Northwest Power and Conservation Council Protected Area designation, USFS National Wild and Scenic River recommendation and National Park Service “Rivers Inventory” listing.

The river is also listed by Washington DC based American Rivers as one of the nation's top ten "most endangered rivers" as a result of the proposed dam project.

If not for the lure of an upgraded trap and haul, this project would not be receiving any support, because the trap and haul upgrade is the only part that makes any sense.

Thank you,