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Proposed dam puts Skykomish on list of ten most-endangered rivers

prop dam site summer1.jpg
Photo courtesy of Jeff Smith
Save the Skykomish River
The proposed site for a new dam on the South Fork of the Skykomish River

It’s designated as a State Scenic Waterway and recommended for federal protection. Yet the south fork of the Skykomish River has just been named one of the ten most endangered rivers in the country by the national environmental group, American Rivers.

It’s because of a controversial proposal to build a new dam.

Snohomish County PUD is considered one of the most progressive utilities in the region.

Its pilot projects in geothermal and tidal power are a case in point.

So, for CEO Steve Klein, exploring new hydropower on the Skykomish River is another opportunity to look at a renewable resource that’s in their back yard. He says they’re looking at a newfangled design that could inflate and deflate as needed to prevent flooding and reduce its impact.

“We’re not building the Grand Cooley Dam," Klein says. "This thing should adjust depending upon the flow; water will always be going over the top of it. ”

But locals say the dramatic vistas of Sunset Falls, framed by pristine lakes and the snow covered peaks of Mount Index, would be forever spoiled if the dam goes in. Jeff Smith lives about 50 yards from the site.  

“It’s just one of those spots that can’t be replaced," Smith says. "It’s been up here for 6 million years and it’s an astonishing value as a wild and scenic place. And those are things that we need to protect and not plunder. ”

Confirmation of its federal designation as a Wild and Scenic River, which would prevent a dam from being built on it,  has stalled in Congress. But for the national environmental group American Rivers, that nomination is part of why the proposed dam put the Skykomish on this year’s list of Most Endangered Rivers.

The group has claimed that the dam would reduce two sets of thundering waterfalls to a trickle.

That’s a claim Snohomish PUD says is wildly exaggerated. And CEO Klein says their proposal is only in the early phases of study.

“And if the study showed that the only way to generate electricity was to do that, we’d drop it in a minute,” Klein says.

He says they welcome discussion and are working on drawings of the proposal to help facilitate it.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat for KNKX, where she has worked since 1999. From 2000-2012, she covered the business and labor beat. Bellamy has a deep interest in Indigenous affairs and the Salish Sea. She has a masters in journalism from Columbia University.
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