Water tumbles over the top of the Woods Creek Hydroelectric Project and down to a natural waterfall below on Thursday, April 13, 2023, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Water tumbles over the top of the Woods Creek Hydroelectric Project and down to a natural waterfall below on Thursday, April 13, 2023, in Monroe, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

An electrifying tour: Hydropower plant opens doors to the public

The Woods Creek Sustainability Center is hosting a Hydropower Appreciation Day for guests to see how hydroelectricity gets made.

MONROE — The forested area around the hydropower plant in Woods Creek was calm midday Thursday, save for the splashing of rushing water. Outside the powerhouse, a beaver floated into view, seemingly unconcerned with the human-made structure nearby.

On May 20, however, the space should be buzzing with people taking in the sights. The Woods Creek Sustainability Center, which includes the Hydroelectric Project, a natural waterfall, a “food forest” and pollinator garden, is hosting its first Hydropower Appreciation Day. Guests can tour the property and see for themselves how the energy that runs their homes is produced.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District is 80% powered by hydroelectricity and the PUD’s website boasts their power is 97% carbon-free. The district has five hydroelectric projects total. The largest is the Jackson Hydroelectric Project on the Sultan River with a generation capacity of 112 megawatts.

The Woods Creek Hydro Project is the smallest. Its 0.65 megawatt capacity is nothing to sneeze at though: It powers 200 homes on average annually and at full strength can power around 650.

The PUD bought the project and the surrounding 150 acres in 2008. The area had been the site of hydroelectric projects since the ’20s and the current facility had been there since the ’80s. Many of the components of the project now are newer, a result of PUD’s updates to the facility after the purchase.

The inside of the powerhouse at the Woods Creek Hydroelectric Project is seen from the top stairwell on Thursday, April 13, 2023, in Monroe, Washington. The blaring sound of machinery makes it hard to communicate inside the space. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

The inside of the powerhouse at the Woods Creek Hydroelectric Project is seen from the top stairwell on Thursday, April 13, 2023, in Monroe, Washington. The blaring sound of machinery makes it hard to communicate inside the space. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Already a host for school groups and scout troops, the site will be open on Hydropower Appreciation Day to the general public. All that’s required is a free online registration for a time slot.

At the project, guests will walk over to the weir, a structure similar to a dam, where water from the east fork of Woods Creek collects and then flows over the top. Screens keep fish and debris out of the water being diverted into the powerhouse.

From there, guests will walk down a steep hill, following the penstock, or pipeline. People who need accommodations due to disability will be driven down.

The base of the hill has a view of an almost 60-foot waterfall. Along with its natural beauty, the falls serve a purpose: keeping salmon from swimming upstream to water above the powerhouse.

To enter the powerhouse itself, you’ll have to put on ear plugs, provided by the PUD. The two turbines and generators make a racket, though they’re not always running. Generation depends on water levels. At times one or even both generators are shut down for efficiency reasons and also to ensure that the creek does not get too low.

The tour will also include the food forest and pollinator garden area of the property. The garden has a large variety of fruits and nuts, including apples, pears, plums and walnuts. Many of the trees are recently planted and will bear fruit in future years.

A waterfall pours through the Woods Creek Hydroelectric Project on Thursday, April 13, 2023, in Monroe, Washington. Water at the top of the project is redirected to the powerhouse to create energy, but much of the creek’s water is not tunneled through the system and instead careens off this natural waterfall. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

A waterfall pours through the Woods Creek Hydroelectric Project on Thursday, April 13, 2023, in Monroe, Washington. Water at the top of the project is redirected to the powerhouse to create energy, but much of the creek’s water is not tunneled through the system and instead careens off this natural waterfall. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Hydropower Day will also feature stations staffed by people in various fields, including engineers and biologists, to talk about the project.

Though the Hydro Project has been owned by the PUD for 15 years now, the Sustainability Center is a newer concept championed by senior environmental coordinator Dawn Presler. The vision includes eventually opening a house on the property, once lived in by the former property owner, as a classroom space for students.

The Snohomish PUD is a public power utility. That means that the district is extra invested in having a good relationship with the public, PUD spokesperson Kellie Stickney said. After all, Snohomish residents are not just customers, but owners.

Hydropower Day is a teaching opportunity, Stickney said, and a chance for the public to see the beautiful property.

“It’s something we want to share with the community,” Stickney said.

Sophia Gates: 425-339-3035; sophia.gates@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @SophiaSGates.

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