A recent guest column in The World made arguments for why removal of the Enloe Dam from the Similkameen River is more complicated than it seems. The Lower Similkameen Indian Band support immediate removal as a clear and feasible action.
The dam provides no benefit for electricity or flood control. Recreational reservoir use is sparse. The dam is a long-lived mistake and an ongoing cost and risk.
Removing Enloe Dam is essential to the survival of salmon in the mid-Columbia River system. Climate change has raised the frequency of hot spells and wildfires in our region, and also the temperature of the river. The Okanogan River soon may not be able to sustain salmon, particularly our iconic runs of sockeye and chinook, without the cooling factor of the Similkameen system. Presently, water is pooled behind Enloe Dam to warm in the hot summer sun.
With removal of the dam, the river will resume its natural course to bring cool Cascades water to the Okanogan and on to the Columbia. For salmon in the Okanogan River Basin, this is an urgent and essential need. One that will also support river recreation, healthy ecosystems and cultural heritage.
Removing the dam is consistent with the cultural legends and official position of the Similkameen people on both sides of the U.S./Canada border. Since 2008, we have called for restoring the river to its pre-dam conditions including the restoration of the Coyote Falls, a natural barrier, to its original height.
The previous opinion writer focused his attention on the matter of toxic mining waste in sediment behind the dam. This is a serious concern. However, recent testing by the U.S. Geological Survey found surprisingly lower levels of toxins in those sediments than what some may have expected.
Furthermore, recent research on the volume of sediment behind the dam and on the options for nearby long-term upland storage of those sediments found removal to be feasible.
An environmental consultant firm estimated the entire project of dam removal and sediment remediation to cost approximately $50 million.
This is a small fraction of what is spent annually to sustain salmon in the Columbia and pales in comparison to the benefits of river restoration. Sources of public and private funds are eager to underwrite this commonsense action.
The alternative, which appears to be the policy of the Okanogan County PUD, would be to allow the dam to remain in place, providing no benefit. It would store toxins and warmed water, impairing the existence of salmon and steelhead while costing ratepayers for upkeep until it eventually degrades and spills toxins and debris downstream.
The Similkameen people cannot support fish ladders that would promote fish passage into the Similkameen system, but the Similkameen people do support those activities that promote the cooling impact of the river, sediment cleanup and activities that ensure mining companies upstream adhere to strict environmental standards, that ensures salmon health to the point of the dam and downstream. The time to remove Enloe Dam is long overdue and the Similkameen people support its removal and a restoration of the original rock cataract.