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Sunset Falls

Objections to dam misleading

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The “More harm than good” Sunday Viewpoints commentary in opposition to the PUD’s Sunset Falls project by Sen. Kirk Pearson, Lora Cox and Andrea Matzke is misleading. There was a time when engineers like me gave little consideration to the impact of dams on Native Americans and ecology. That does not appear to be the case for the PUD and the Sunset Falls project. The “dam” may or may not be a good idea but the article ignores too many facts to be credible.
Most importantly the “dam” is actually an inflatable floating “weir” which would be placed above Sunset Falls. When in use, the weir would raise the water level above the falls by up to about 1 foot. Most power would be generated in winter when there is a significant need and spring when there is less need.
The writers argue that the dam will impede salmon migration and “destroy an enormous amount of salmon habitat” but Sunset Falls is already a barrier to salmon passage and the improved capture and release system proposed by PUD will allow access to more than 90 miles of spawning habitat above Sunset Falls. Newer fish screens required by the National Marine Fisheries Service will prevent downstream migrating fish from passing thorough the turbine.
The writers argue that construction of the diversion tunnel will be blasted through “salmon habitat.” Perhaps they mean that blasting can interfere with salmon spawning. While that may be true, very few salmon spawn in the vicinity of the proposed tunnel and the noise and vibrations associated with the one or two blasts per day (as proposed) are likely to be less than that from frequent trains on the nearby BNSF mainline. View impact is a legitimate concern, but the tunnel (and other measures to be taken by PUD) would mitigate view concerns when compared to a surface features. It is true that water diversion through the turbine will, at times, reduce flow in the 1.1 mile reach between the intake and discharge structures, but flow over the falls and in this reach must be maintained for aesthetic and instream (fish) flow purposes.
The writers comparison to other forms of clean energy fails to mention that every form of energy production, even wind, solar and geothermal has negative consequences. The only true way to protect the environment is through energy conservation, an area where PUD has an excellent record.
Hank Landau, PE, Ph.D

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