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Seattle City Light Finalizes License on Key Hydroelectric Dam

Seattle City Light has finalized a new 42-year license on its most productive hydroelectric dam. The agreement wraps up a process seven years in the making.

Boundary Dam sits on the Pend Oreille River in northeastern Washington. It rises to 340 feet tall, spanning a narrow canyon. 

"Oh it's awesome," said City Light's Barbara Greene. "Every time I go there, after 10 years, it's just awesome."

Greene heads the team that negotiated the new license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. She says the dam is City Light's most important asset, providing up to 40 percent of Seattle's power on any given day.

She says while many dams must restrict their production, depending on fish runs and other factors, the utility has much more flexibility in how it runs Boundary.

"We're able, during parts of the year with excess runoff, to sell our power on the market. And that helps to keep rates low," she said.

Greene says City Light agreed to enhance habitat and public access near the dam as part of the license. That includes restocking native fish species above the dam and adding some recreational trails.

The deal also involves removing another, defunct dam upstream of the Boundary Dam. That move helped secure support from environmentalists and the local Kalispel Tribe.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.