Monthly Archives: August 2014

Similkameen Falls Focus of CELP Protection Efforts

Rachael Paschal Osborn, Senior Policy Advisor

BLM Similkameen Trail EA Map

Map of the Similkameen River Trail. Image credit U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

The Similkameen Falls sit below Enloe dam on the Similkameen River, located about 4 miles northwest of the town of Oroville in Okanogan County.  The Falls are an important cultural resource for the Lower Similkameen Indian Band and the Confederated Colville Tribes.   The Similkameen is also a popular recreational destination for hikers and boaters, with the 2011 designation of the Similkameen River Trail, which ends at the Falls, and which will soon become a segment of the new, 1200-mile long Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail .  The River is also designated as part of the Greater Columbia Water Trail.

Enloe dam has not generated power since the 1950’s, and sits like a concrete plug in the river.  Okanogan Public Utility District (PUD) however, plans to build off-river turbines adjacent to the dam and divert all of the water out of the river during summer months, de-watering the Similkameen Falls.  The Department of Ecology endorsed this plan by issuing a 401 Certification and a water right to the PUD, both conditioned on maintaining a paltry 10 to 30 cfs flow over the Falls.

Having recently successfully settled the Spokane Falls 401 Certification litigation, thus re-hydrating Spokane’s centerpiece waterfalls, CELP joined with partners to appeal the Okanogan PUD 401 Certification to the Pollution Control Hearings Board.  Trial was held in April 2013, and Bo Shelby and Doug Whittaker of Confluence Research & Consulting – the leading national experts on river management for recreation and aesthetics – provided testimony about the aesthetic and recreational values of the Similkameen Falls, and the failure of Ecology’s permit to protect those values. Conservation Group Expert Report 2/4/13 The Board agreed that Ecology and the PUD had not adequately studied aesthetic flows, and directed the two agencies to prepare a new aesthetic flow study after the project is built. CELP et al v. Ecology and Okanogan PUD, PCHB Final Amended Order 8-30-13.

As a result Okanogan PUD faces substantial uncertainty as to how much water will be required to remain instream and therefore unavailable to power its turbines.   A 2011 study by Rocky Mountain Econometrics demonstrates that the Enloe Project is already an economic loser, and with less water available, will likely become a major liability for Okanogan PUD and its ratepayers.

In August 2013, Ecology inexplicably issued a new water right to the PUD, authorizing it to divert 600 cfs from the river and maintain a 10/30 cfs minimum flow – the exact flow that the Pollution Control Hearings Board had just rejected.  CELP and its partners again appealed, and the Board agreed, imposing conditions similar to those contained in the amended 401 Certification.

However, without knowing whether it is even possible to establish an aesthetic flow for the waterfalls, Ecology could not make the important finding that the water right will not cause harm to the public interest, one of the four tests for a new water right.   Ecology should have denied the water right application or issued it as a preliminary permit.  Because of the Board’s faulty legal reasoning – that the public interest determination can be deferred to a future date – CELP has appealed the Board’s order to Thurston County Superior Court.

This month, CELP signed on to a letter prepared by the Hydropower Reform Coalition, critiquing the PUD’s new Aesthetic and Recreation Management Plans, HRC comments on Enloe Aesthetic and Recreational Reports 8-19-14, which fail to address the minimum flow bypass questions and recreational values of the Similkameen River.   The concern is that the PUD’s continuing minimization of the uncertainty surrounding instream flow issues has significance for the economic viability of the project.   Okanogan ratepayers are already facing big rate increases.  The Enloe Project is going to make matters much worse.

There is a better path, and that path is to consider dam removal.  The Enloe Project is a perfect example of ancient infrastructure that cannot reasonably be upgraded to achieve cheap hydropower.  It’s time to think about taking out Enloe dam and restoring a free-flowing Similkameen River.   The fishery and water quality benefits could be substantial.

CELP is happy to be working in concert with its partners American Whitewater, Columbiana, North Cascades Conservation Council, Sierra Club, Confluence Research & Consulting, Rocky Mountain Econometrics, Conservation Northwest, and the Hydropower Reform Coalition.   We are also grateful to our attorneys, Andrea Rodgers, Kristen Larson and Suzanne Skinner, and to our members and the foundations who have supported us in protecting the beautiful Similkameen Falls.   It takes a village to protect a waterfall.

Stay tuned for more news on the future of the Similkameen River and Falls, and Enloe dam.

Columbia River Treaty Prayer Vigil Recap

By Adam Wicks-Arshack, canoe-builder, educator, and CELP Member

On August 1st 2014, a series of prayer vigils began in Astoria, Oregon.  For 16 consecutive days along the Columbia River, multi-faith prayer vigils were held to provide a forum for Columbia River citizens to gather to pray, sing, share stories and break bread.  These vigils not only helped raise awareness about the Columbia River Treaty, fish passage, and the health of the river, but most importantly it brought diverse groups of people together from all walks of faith.

Adam Wicks-Arshack begins the prayer vigil at Fort Colville, Kettle Falls, WA. Photo by John Roskelley.

Adam Wicks-Arshack begins the prayer vigil at Fort Colville, Kettle Falls, WA. Photo by John Roskelley.

Some of the highlights:

Astoria, OR – Over 50 people gathered at the waterfront park in solidarity against coal export terminals, LNG exports and the continued exploitation of the Columbia River.  While this community has been fighting for some time against these exploitations, the community organized by the Columbia Riverkeeper found great joy in the opportunity to gather around something positive.  To pray for the health of the Columbia River, to pray for the return of the salmon to the upper river and to share stories about their own personal connection to the Columbia River.

Longview, WA – On Sunday afternoon, over 150 people, along with drummers and singers, greeted the Cowlitz Tribe’s canoe family as they paddled into the Prayer Vigil at Willow Grove.  Five different Christian faiths from the community were represented and the chief of the Cowlitz Tribe shared some very powerful words of hope and wisdom.  Many speakers spoke and prayed about the importance of returning the salmon above Grand Coulee dam and back into Canada, as this is something that would positively impact the river as a whole.  Two beautiful songs were sung by all of the attendees, “Come Down to the River to Pray” and “The River Song.” Click here for The Daily News Online coverage.

Hood River, OR – A very diverse group of Columbia River citizens gathered to dance, sing and pray at the waterfront park in Hood River, OR.  The vigil began with a dance which came from Crow Indian tradition and was followed by all of the attendees sharing their personal connection to water and the Columbia River.  The vigil then moved down to the river where people were instructed to touch the water and throw it into the air following a very moving prayer and harmonica rendition of “Shanandoah.” Click here for Hood River News Coverage.

Wanapum Village Longhouse (Hanford/Priest Rapids Dam) – The Wanapum Tribe hosted a very powerful vigil at their longhouse.  Delicious first foods were shared along with songs, prayers and stories.

Two Rivers, WA (Confluence of Spokane and Columbia River) – Hosted by members of the Spokane Tribe and faith leaders from Spokane, 50 Columbia River citizens gathered to share stories and pray for the Columbia River.  This was the first vigil to be located up-river of Grand Coulee and the mood was more somber but each spoke of hope for the future.  An Okanagan woman who drove over 8 hours to attend the vigil sang “Amazing Grace” in her traditional language followed by the whole group singing it in English.  Many elders spoke, as did knowledge-keepers from visiting tribes.  Speakers spoke about the importance of the Columbia River Treaty and the value of salmon, a healthy river, and leaving a lasting legacy for the youth.

Kettle Falls, WA – About 30 people from Inchelium, Kettle Falls, Northport and the surrounding area gathered at St. Pauls Mission.  Everyone then walked out to the sharpening stone, which overlooks the now flooded historic salmon fishing site of Kettle Falls.  The vigil began with a beautiful Columbia River Song and a moment of silence to remember the falls, the salmon and all those who fished the powerful waters of Kettle Falls.  The vigil continued with people sharing poems, prayers songs, and reflections on a river that once was.

Trail, BC – About 20 people gathered at Gyro park.  The vigil opened with a greeting in the Okanagan language from the Chief of the Lower Similkameen Band.  All attendees shared their connection to the Columbia River and a young child sang a beautiful River Song with her grandfather.

Nakusp, BC – Over 50 people came together on the shore of Upper Arrow Lake in Nakusp to pray for the health of the Columbia River.  Very powerful prayers, songs and stories were shared by people of Sinixt heritage.  Prayers from the Christian faith were also shared along with songs and stories from locals of the Nakusp area. Before a wonderful meal, all attendees were asked to wash their hands in the river, to connect with the waters.

Revelstoke, BC – Fifteen people from the Revelstoke area gathered to pray for and reflect on the Columbia River.  The vigil opened with a thank you and acknowledgement to local First Nations followed by songs and prayers directed towards the river.  The attendees of the vigil then went down to the river and attached a prayer or a thought to a rock and tossed it into the river.

Adam Wicks-Arshack is a master canoe-builder.  In 2013 he and other voyageurs worked with Tribal youth to build canoes, then paddled canoes upriver from Pacific Ocean to the Columbia River headwaters.  Their canoe journey brought regional focus on modernizing the Treaty and  returning salmon home to ancestral spawning waters in the Upper Columbia River.  Adam is working with CELP on our Ethics & Columbia River Treaty project.  To view films of his voyage click here.

Other Media Coverage of the Prayer Vigils:

KPLU– “Tribes Urge U.S., Canada To Update Columbia River Treaty

Oregon Live, The Associated Press– “Native American tribes hold vigils for Columbia River salmon