Don’t Dam It!
In Sept., 2011, Snohomish County Public Utility District submitted a preliminary permit application (FERC P-14295) to place a hydroelectric dam above Canyon Falls and Sunset Falls on the South Fork of The Skykomish River. The proposed dam is directly below the popular trails leading to Lake Serene and Bridal Veil Falls. The dam would divert most of the water from the river between the dam and Sunset Falls. De-watering the Skykomish River could do great environmental damage and is in conflict with with the Washington State Renewable Energy Standards and the voter approved 1-937 mandates which strictly exclude new dams.
The South Fork of the Skykomish is truly one of the most spectacular rivers in the United States. For millions of years the Skykomish has run unabated through what are now the Sky Wilderness and Alpine Lakes Wilderness areas. The Skykomish is one of the last free flowing rivers left in Washington State. The river is a vital artery, flowing from the heart of the old growth forests of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness as it reaches what is the climax of its spectacular run under the cliffs of Mt Index, flowing over Canyon and Sunset Falls. These are two of the most beautiful waterfalls in Washington State. This amazing river is in the middle of a popular recreation area used heavily by hikers, climbers and rafters and is viewed by hundreds of thousands of people each year from Highway 2 as a symbol of what has been a protected Scenic River and spectacular natural area.
Placing a $150 million industrial project and dam in the Skykomish River will not only disfigure a hollowed place, but also forever damage a portion of the river and waterfalls that have flowed for eons. Trading the permanent desecration of a wild and scenic place for the creation of a small amount of electrical power is a violation of the values and principles that have guided the laws and culture of the Northwest for many decades. No amount of “mitigation” can change this fact.
Both the values and the science guiding this plan are flawed. Sunset Falls has a long history of being a protected area. Federal and State comprehensive plans have recognized that hydro power development at Sunset Falls is not in the public interest. Past applications for hydro development on the Skykomish have been abandoned. The South Fork of the Skykomish River is on the State of Washington Scenic Rivers list, which strongly discourages hydro development. This section of the Skykomish is recommended by the Forest Service for designation by Congress as aNational Wild and Scenic River, which would prohibit hydro development. In addition, the Northwest Power and Conversation Council, established by Congress and funded by Bonneville Power, has defined the Skykomish as a Protected area from hydro power development. All these protections have been enacted for good reasons after extensive public, legislative and scientific input.
The dam project is likely to produce only 13 megawatts of power at best, and quite possibly less than that after required stream flows and seasonal shuts down are considered. This is enough for only about 7000 houses or about one percent of Snohomish PUD’s power needs.
The dam would be built in one of those rare places that are disappearing. Beyond all the posturing by interested parties, a basic question has to be asked. Is the proposed disfigurement of a rare natural wonder by an industrial project producing a small amount of power at enormous cost a measure of our wisdom about our role and needs in this world or a reflection of our lack of understanding that protecting the natural world is ultimately the most important measure of protecting ourselves. Power can be generated in many places and forms. Its creation should not destroy an irreplaceable place that has had a profound impact on the human spirit for centuries.