The National Hydropower Association has honored Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) with a 2017 Outstanding Stewards of America’s Waters award for its success in providing access to additional fish habitat in the Sultan River Basin, site of the PUD’s Jackson Hydroelectric Project. PUD officials joined with the City of Everett, the Tulalip Tribes and various state and federal resource agencies this week to recognize the successful effort.
“We’re extremely proud of the way this project came together and happy to see the fish respond so quickly in the way they have,” said PUD Natural Resources Manager Keith Binkley. “This builds on other fish-focused projects we have undertaken under a new federal license, issued in 2011 for the Jackson Project.”
In late 2016, the PUD opened up six miles of additional fish habitat on the Sultan River by modifying a diversion dam on the upper reach of the river. The dam historically has been used in connection with the local water supply. Within weeks of the project’s completion, coho salmon were detected upstream – for the first time in nearly 100 years! The utility also documented steelhead spawning in the river’s upper reach in spring 2017.
“This project is a showcase example of what we can do working together to improve the health of a river while still continuing to locally generate hydropower that benefits our communities and reduces our carbon footprint,” said Tom O’Keefe, Chair of the Hydropower Reform Coalition.
The utility has worked closely for many years with the Tulalip Tribes to develop fisheries programs in the Sultan Basin.
“Salmon are one of the foundations of our culture, so we’re excited to welcome them home,” said Tulalip Chairwoman Marie Zackuse. “This is phenomenal. We raise our hands to everyone who has helped make this possible.”
Another earlier but significant habitat-related effort was the creation and enhancement of nearly two miles of side channels in the lower Sultan River, which used engineered log jams to shape habitat and provide safe havens for rearing juvenile salmon.
The utility also improved conditions for fish by installing a new release valve for water from the Spada Lake Reservoir to provide more suitable water temperatures, implementing new river flow schedules and scheduling special high flow releases on the river to transport wood and rock to shape habitat. The PUD also modified a barrier to fish passage created by a natural landslide along the river, downstream of the diversion dam project.
The PUD has been recognized by several organizations for its success in developing and operating hydropower projects in ways that protect fish, wildlife, recreation and community resources, including the Puget Sound Regional Council, the American Society of Civil Engineers and Renewable Energy World Magazine.