Letter from the Puyallup Nation regarding the Electron Dam Project

[Editor Note: The following is content is a letter from the website of the Puyallup Tribal Council regarding the Electron Dam. The water diversion dam (Headworks) is 10 miles up river from the Hydroelectric Plant at Electron. That diverted water runs in an 8 x 8 foot flume to the forebay above the hydro plant. The water in the forebay settles and drains into the penstocks that drop 900 feet downhill to the hydroelectric plant. I added the link to the Facebook Video, to their letter.]

To our membership

Friends and relatives, we have important news concerning our fish, the Puyallup River and Electron Dam. 

On July 31, 2020, the Tribe became aware that the owners of Electron Dam had put old, degrading, artificial turf in the Puyallup River. This action obviously has a negative impact on the fish this Tribe depends on. 

As a Tribal Council, we are not only gravely concerned about the health of the fish, the River, and our people, we are furious—absolutely furious—at the disregard demonstrated by Electron Dam’s owners for the Tribe, its members, and the fish and environment upon which we depend. Our Creator gifted us these things, and we will not ignore this outrage. We are fighting for every fish.

There is a long history between the Tribe and this dam:

Electron Dam

The Electron Dam operates on the Puyallup River and is owned and operated by Electron Hydro LLC.  Electron Hydro purchased the dam in 2014 from Puget Sound Energy, over the objections of the Tribe.  As part of the purchase, Electron Hydro is obligated to maintain the terms of the Resource Enhancement Agreement that PSE has with the Tribe.

The Tribe and PSE entered into the Resource Enhancement Agreement (REA) in 1997.  The REA identifies each of the parties’ agreed obligations with regard to operations of the Electron Facility including the construction of the fish ladder allowing upstream migration, withdrawal limitations, and the trap and haul operations that move fish out of the forebay of the facility.  While this agreement provided better protections for fish than previously encountered, the last 20 years have demonstrated that downstream survivability remains severely impacted by the Electron Facility. 

In 2014, PSE sold the Electron facility to Electron Hydro LLC.  The Tribe litigated against the sale at the Utilities and Transportation Commission because the REA could not be assigned to Electron LLC.  The Tribe worried that Electron LLC would not live up to its promises to screen the facility in a timely and effective manner and would operate the facility far into the future without significant improvements in spite of the REA term of retiring or upgrading the facility by 2026. 

PSE reacted to the Tribe’s litigation by entering into an agreement with Electron LLC whereby PSE was still obligated under the REA, and Electron was obligated to PSE to carry out the obligations in the REA.  The UTC found against the Tribe and allowed the sale to move forward.

Ultimately, the objections of the Tribe and the warnings the Tribe issued about the qualifications and intent of Electron Hydro in purchasing and maintaining Electron Dam went unheeded. 

Electron Hydro has operated the facility with a host of issues since 2014.  Electron Hydro continues to experience unacceptable fish kills in the forebay, has had significant difficulties maintaining ramping rates in the bypass reach, and has been extremely slow and reluctant to meet regulatory requirements under the Endangered Species Act.  Most recently, Electron Hydro released unknown quantities of contaminants to the system from its placement of artificial turf in the river. 

The dam removal project

Electron is working to remove the old dam structure and replace it with an inflatable bladder dam that will allow for better and more natural sediment management.  The Tribe supported the permitting of this project only because the second phase would provide a fish screen that would exclude fish, if working properly, from the facility. That would alleviate the 116-year-old problem associated with deplorable downstream fish passage survival rates. At the same time, Electron was to enter into a Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) with the federal agencies to protect fish and comply with the Endangered Species Act. 

The dam removal project began on approximately July 15, 2020.  Electron provided a draft HCP to the agencies and the Tribe for review and comment earlier this summer. Tribal staff reviewed the draft HCP and found it to be woefully inadequate, without adequate scientific basis, and lacking any true consequences for failures and continued impacts to fish. Not surprisingly, the HCP appears to have been drafted by Electron employees with little to no fisheries experience.  It has been a pattern of Electron to avoid the costs associated with hiring qualified professional scientists or consultants for any aspect of evaluating fisheries issues.

On Friday, July 31, a Facebook video surfaced that showed Electron Hydro had placed unknown quantities of artificial turf in the river as part of its work replacing the diversion dam. The video showed the turf and piles of small rubber pellets on the river bottom. The Tribe is grateful to the person who documented this discovery.

At a site visit on August 3, Thom Fischer of Electron Hydro admitted to placing the artificial turf in the river. The turf went under a liner on what was, at that time, the river channel. River flow was continuing over the liner and artificial turf.  Fischer explained that he directed this to occur to prevent the liner from continued tearing and breaking apart.  However, he also explained that at some point entire sections of artificial turf and liner had torn away and washed downstream.  Our Fisheries staff located fragments of the turf a mile downstream on August 5.

Permitting agencies for the work at the dam include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (which also draws in National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife for Endangered Species Act compliance), Pierce County, the Washington Department of Ecology, and State Fish and Wildlife.  We immediately notified all the permitting agencies, and by August 7, stop-work orders had been issued by the Corps and Pierce County.  Those stop-work orders remain in place today.

More bad news: Countless fish killed in forebay

As part of a project to remove sediment from the forebay of the project (the area where water flows into a lake like area prior to flowing into the penstocks for electricity production), Electron had to drain the forebay and attempt to remove fish from the forebay and return them to the river. 

Sediment removal was a yearly activity when the project was owned by PSE. While not ideal, it provided a more controlled and regular protection for some of the fish that entered the system.  Tribal staff advised Electron such work should be done more regularly and, when it wasn’t, recommended various measures to be taken to protect fish. 

Electron ignored the Tribal Fisheries staff recommendations, and, as a result, countless salmon and bull trout, in all life stages, were killed during the forebay draining on July 29.  Electron also violated many of the terms and conditions of the permits authorizing the forebay draining and may not have the appropriate permits for fish handling.

What is next

We will not let these misdeeds go.

First, we need the help of fishers, boaters and everyone on the Puyallup River. If you find artificial turf or rubber pellets in the river, please bring them to Fisheries with the location where you collected them.

Know that the Tribe is looking at the legal actions it needs to take to further prohibit continued impacts to fish by Electron Dam and Electron Hydro, LLC.  We also have brought this important issue to regional news media so they can help bring it to light. We expect coverage very soon.

We will continue to fight for our fish and people.

Sincerely,

Your Puyallup Tribal Council

* * * * * * *

[Editor Note: Puget Sound Energy is planning to pull the agreement with Electron Hydro and sue them. Seattle Times article here.]

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