The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff has issued a draft environmental assessment recommending licensing the 9-MW Enloe hydroelectric project at the existing Enloe Dam on the Similkameen River in eastern Washington.
Enloe Dam originally generated electricity from 1923 to 1958 when it was decommissioned because a transmission line brought less expensive hydropower to Okanogan County. Okanogan Public Utility District obtained a hydropower license for the project in 1983 that was rescinded at the PUD's request in 1986 due to concerns about project costs and disagreements about upstream fish passage.
The current proceeding is the third attempt by Okanogan PUD to license Enloe (No. 12569). The previous attempt failed in 2000, when FERC rescinded the newly issued license due to a mandatory requirement for fish ladders by the National Marine Fisheries Service.
NMFS had insisted the licensee must build fish ladders to transport anadromous fish past the project into upstream reaches where there was no historic evidence that anadromous fish had ever migrated due to a 20-foot-tall waterfall downstream.
Upstream fish passage at the site is opposed by British Columbia, which fears possible introduction of anadromous fish upstream into Canada would harm its resident wild fish. Seven bands of the Okanogan Nation also argued that native fish stocks could be harmed and that Okanogan legends say anadromous species did not historically migrate into the Similkameen.
When FERC rescinded the license in 2000, Commissioner Curt Hebert Jr. condemned NMFS' action, saying "One party, carrying mandatory conditioning authority, and focusing myopically on its own particular interest, can upset the collaborative process if so inclined. To a party opposing relicensing, stalemate may mean victory for one party and defeat to the rest of America."
Eleven years later, in the current proceeding, neither NMFS nor the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is requiring upstream fish passage, although, as in all hydro licenses, they reserve their authority to require fish passage in the future. FERC rejected arguments by American Rivers, the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission that more studies should seek historical evidence of anadromous fish passage.
"... Due to the absence of anadromous fish and the potential adverse effects that could occur upstream if anadromous fish were to be passed, we conclude that any additional studies of historical anadromy above Enloe Dam are not worth the estimated levelized annual cost of $6,770," the draft environmental assessment said.
The draft EA recommends licensing the project as proposed by Okanogan PUD with some additional recommendations of FERC staff. It noted if FERC declines to license the project, the Bureau of Land Management has said it would require Okanogan PUD to remove the dam under a current BLM right-of-way permit for the dam, which sits on BLM land.
The economic analysis in the document found that Okanogan PUD's proposal would produce power at $2.40 per megawatt-hour less than the cost of alternative power, while licensing with staff modifications would produce power at $1.89/MWh less than the cost of alternative power.
The draft EA may be obtained from FERC's Internet site at http://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/common/opennat.asp?fileID=12656969. Comments are due to the commission by June 8.
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