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Utility contests petition on Enloe permit

Water temperature, flow questioned

— The Okanogan County Public Utility District has asked the state to deny conservationists’ petition to clarify the state’s decision upholding a water quality permit issued for Enloe Dam.

The conservation groups – the Columbia River BioRegional Education Project, the Center for Environmental Law and Policy, American Whitewater, North Cascades Conservation Council and Sierra Club – filed a petition Aug. 2 with the state Pollution Control Hearings Board asking for clarification regarding aesthetic flows of Similkameen Falls over Enloe Dam, particularly regarding water temperature standards.

“The board said that whatever flows are going to be required should not raise the temperature of the water above what would normally be the case. What is the highest level under the standard?” Jere Gillespie, of the Columbia River BioRegional Education Project, said.

A debate over preserving the natural aesthetics of the falls has been ongoing since the state Department of Ecology issued a water quality permit, known as a 401 certification, to the utility.

The conservationists argued that the required cubic feet per second to be released over the falls was too low to meet the aesthetic requirements of the Clean Water Act, but the utility and Ecology said that spilling more water over the falls could raise the water temperature, which can be harmful or even deadly to fish.

In a response filed with the Pollution Control Hearings Board on Aug. 13, the utility disagreed with the petition’s assertion that the board’s order “creates a more stringent standard for aesthetic flows than is required by state law.” The petition noted that a temperature increase over natural conditions of 0.3 degrees Celsius, or 32.5 degrees Fahrenheit, is permissible under state law.

However, the law also holds that water temperature for salmon spawning, rearing and migration shouldn’t exceed 17.5 degrees Celsius, or 63.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

The petition suggests the board’s order “should be amended to indicate that temperature increases over the dam and through the bypass reach must comply with water quality standards, not that aesthetic flows can cause no increase in temperature whatsoever.”

In a separate response, also filed Aug. 13, Ecology objected to the conservationists’ request that the hearings board strike a sentence from its order that the aesthetic flow is secondary to the flows needed to protect salmon.

“Appellants’ objection to this sentence is misguided,” Ecology said in its response, pointing to the testimony of Brad Caldwell earlier this spring during the hearing in Tumwater.

Caldwell testified that “as a matter of practice fish flows are typically determined first because when there is sufficient flow to protect salmonid spawning, reading, and migration, there is typically sufficient flow for the protection of aesthetics, wildlife, and other values.”

The utility’s response claimed that the conservationists’ request regarding water temperature contradicts testimony given earlier this year by members of those groups. The utility cited quotes from Gillespie and Joseph Enzensperger, who both said they didn’t feel it would be right to sacrifice fish for aesthetics.

In addition, the utility said, “Appellants ignore the broad discretion of the Board and Ecology to balance the achievement of competing water quality standards through the use of adaptive management.”

For its part, Ecology didn’t objecty to the conservationists’ request for clarification, as long as it’s made clear the agency is “authorized to impose conditions on aesthetic flows to protect aquatic life uses.”

Ecology noted that the fish management plan included in the 401 certification requires the utility to build a side channel to pump cooler water from the ground, mixing with the water from the bypass reach and thereby lowering the temperature of the water below the falls.

The conservationists’ petition does not object to the board’s order itself, which requires the utility and the state Department of Ecology to conduct an aesthetic flow study within the next three years, then amend the minimum required flow if necessary.

The same groups also filed a petition with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Aug. 8, claiming the agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act because it didn’t consider the environmental and economic impacts of the minimum required flow of Similkameen Falls when it issued a 50-year license for the dam to the Okanogan County Public Utility District on July 9.

The petition “basically asks FERC to amend the license to take into consideration the Pollution Control Hearings Board decision requiring aesthetic flow,” Gillespie said.

The groups hope to hear from FERC and the Pollution Control Hearings Board within the next few weeks.

The utility spent about $9.7 million on the FERC license application, a process that took about five years.

The dam hasn’t generated power since 1958, when the utility closed it down in favor of purchasing its power elsewhere.

If the dam is reopened, it would generate a maximum of 9 megawatts, which could provide electricity to about 3,500 homes.

An official decision on whether to reopen the dam hasn’t been made by utility commissioners.

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