Snohomish County PUD is tackling an important environmental issue with an innovative approach to helping threatened fish populations in the Sultan River.
On Wednesday, the PUD celebrated the public unveiling of its recently completed and nationally recognized Water Temperature Conditioning (WTC) Project. More than 60 invited guests, dignitaries and employees toured the project at Spada Lake Reservoir’s Culmback Dam.
As part of relicensing requirements for the Henry M. Jackson Hydroelectric Project, the PUD can now adjust the water temperature in the Sultan River immediately below the dam, better supporting fish habitats. Before the WTC Project, water released into this section of the river came from the base of the reservoir, which is naturally colder than water near the top, where an intake tower draws water for electricity generation. Today, a new 715-foot pipeline gives the PUD the ability to divert some of the warmer water flowing into the intake tower to the base of the dam, where it mixes with the colder water.
“Because we can now warm or cool the river’s temperature as needed, we sustain better conditions for fish closer to the dam, including threatened salmon and steelhead populations,” said Keith Binkley, PUD Natural Resources Manager.
Environmental and hydropower organizations are taking notice of the PUD’s work. Earlier this year, the National Hydropower Association presented the PUD with its annual Outstanding Steward of America’s Waters award, which recognizes and honors hydro projects that exhibit exemplary environmental enhancements.
“This is an absolutely essential tool to be able to manage temperatures vital to the long-term aquatic health of the river,” said William Stelle, Senior Advisor at Washington Water Trust and former Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries. “Those temperatures are changing, so this project is essential to the Sultan River for the next generation.”
“We place a high importance on environmental responsibility,” said Tom DeBoer, Assistant General Manager of Generation and Power for the PUD. “We are proud of the fact we supply our customers with 98% carbon-free energy, largely the result of our strong partnership with the Bonneville Power Administration, and through our own renewable hydropower projects like the Jackson Hydro Project.”
The WTC project follows a related PUD project, completed in 2016, that reopened a six-mile stretch of the Sultan River to migratory fish. Salmon were discovered in the newly reopened stretch within weeks, proof of the project’s immediate success. The 2016 efforts also earned praise and a national award.
Water from Spada Lake Reservoir and Culmback Dam flows from the intake tower to the Jackson Hydroelectric Project downstream where it generates enough electricity to power more than 53,000 homes in Snohomish County.