‘Small hydro’ may set bad precedent

In the Sept. 30 letter, “No decision made on Sunset Falls,” PUD Commissioner Aldrich rebuffed an oft-stated objection to the proposed PUD hydroelectric project “…it will reduce the river to a trickle, destroying one of the last wild rivers in North America…”. In response Mr Aldrich stated “If the project is approved then completed, I would defy any observer to notice its effects on river flows.”

Here are some facts. The PUD application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (September 28, 2011) estimates mean annual water flow at the diversion point “to be 2,455 cubic feet per second (cfs) based on recorded daily flows at U.S. Geological Survey Gaging Station” (Exhibit 1/page 1) while assuming 2,500 cfs will be diverted to the power house via a tunnel that has a diameter of 19 feet (Exhibit 1/page 2).

Mr. Aldrich should understand why it’s easy to believe the Skykomish River will be reduced to a trickle if, on average, the dam is being designed to divert 102 percent of river flow!

The Pacific Northwest has long had a love affair with hydroelectric power and, although Elwa and Condit dam removals reflect a cooled passion for many of us, it seems difficult for our PUD to look forward to new sources of renewable energy as mandated by voters for I-937 in 2006. The great danger of the Sunset Falls hydro project is one of bad precedent, potentially establishing “small hydro” as the energy generation method of choice for the 21st century while placing every small river and creek in this state at risk for industrial development.

I urge all Snohomish County residents to encourage our PUD Commissioners to adopt a more forward-looking policy on pursuing new local, renewable energy sources. It’s time to make the option of impoundment and diversion of our wild and scenic rivers a thing of the past.

Rex Harmon