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Don’t reach for the Sky

by Kirk Werner on June 19, 2013

WA—The town of Index is said to have a population of 180. On Wednesday June 12th the population seemed to have temporarily doubled, or came dam close to doing so. It was on this date that I attended a meeting in the Index Fire Hall to hear citizen comments with regard to a proposed dam on the South Fork of the Skykomish River. The result was standing room only inside and outside of the Fire Hall.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) was on hand to hear public comments on the scope of the project which is being proposed by the Snohomish County PUD. The project is listed as the Sunset Fish Passage and Energy Project #14295-00.

Before we go any further I’ll issue this disclaimer: I am not a member of the press. My job (which is really not a job at all) is not to report objectively on this project.  I am here to give you a very nutshell description of the project as I understand it, and to state my opposition because this is my blog and I am opposed to this dam project. So there.

If you want to read an unbiased article about the proposed project, I recommend this article from the Monroe Monitor, March 12. 2013: Dam: Environmental Boon or Bust? Here’s another article from the Everett Herald, June 15, 2013: But many factors will be weighed in considering a proposed mini-dam.

For me personally, here are the arguments I use in my opposition of the project:

1. First off, this proposed dam is not a concrete hydroelectric structure. It is an inflatable diversion weir that would redirect water into a large intake chamber where the water would then plummet some 2000+ feet to a power generating plant below Sunset Falls. This weir will not function 12 months of the year. In fact it will be taken offline when natural river flows are at their lowest, from July-October. It seems to me that a source for generating power should be able to meet the peak demands for electricity. In this case the it seems that the highest demands would be when customers are using air conditioners/heat pumps during the hottest months of the year (July, August and September).  I don’t pretend to know much, but something seems amiss here.

2. The water intake chamber would be a 19 foot diameter tunnel, over 2000 feet in length, that will be blasted through the granite bedrock. The potential for geological problems with this is not insignificant— naturally occurring levels of arsenic in the rock could be released into the river. Index lies within a region that has the potential for significant seismic events—think BIG earthquakes. Once blasted you cannot convince me that the structural integrity of the bedrock will not have been compromised.

3. Sunset Falls is a migratory fish barrier. Salmon returning to spawn can go no further than the base of the falls so they spawn in the gravel below the falls. Messing with the flows over the falls at all will affect the salmon redds. Redirecting the natural flow of the water will change the makeup of the stream bed.  It can’t not have an impact on the fish that spawn there. Oh, and the upper Sky is also a stronghold for the endangered bull trout, FYI.

4. Cost estimates are $110 million to $170 million for this project that will only generate power for about 10,000 homes. That’s a chunk of change right there for a power source that is not sustainable. Al Gore’s Global Warming Climate change is affecting the annual snowpack. We don’t know what the future holds for that. I believe the PUD needs to explore other means of sustainable energy production: solar, nuclear—I don’t know. But I know this dam is a bad idea.

And if by chance I am off the mark in any or all of my assertions listed above, here is my final argument that nobody can refute:

5. The Skykomish is a beautiful place: a wild and scenic river and one of few un-dammed rivers in the world. Let’s leave it this way. Save the Sky River

Leave this is place alone.