U.S. Rep. Kim Schrier, D-8th Congressional District, has added her voice to the chorus calling for removal of the Electron Hydroelectric Project on the Puyallup River, saying the dam’s cost to salmon is not worth it.
The dam, owned by Electron Hyrdo LLC, a division of Tollhouse Energy LLC of Bellingham, is more than 100 years old. It provides no irrigation, flood control or energy benefits and is a known killer of protected fish, including chinook salmon and bull trout.
The dam used to provide electricity for about 20,000 homes, but Puget Sound Energy has canceled its power purchase contract for electricity from the dam, citing the operator’s inability to run the dam according to environmental laws.
“The Electron Dam should come down,” Schrier said in a phone interview.
“No one is even buying electricity from this dam, and are we missing it? No,” Schrier said. “For me, it is just very obvious. It is decimating juvenile salmon runs and you are not really getting any benefit.
“When I think about the cost-benefit analysis, the cost to our salmon populations is tremendous. And we are not living up to our treaty obligation to the tribes. It doesn’t seem like any of the possible fixes would do the job, or be worthy of keeping this dam.”
The Puyallup Tribe of Indians also has called for removal of the dam. The Pierce County executive, Republican Bruce Dammeier, also recently called for removal of the dam as soon as possible because of its harm to salmon.
Chris Spens, manager of regulatory affairs for Tollhouse, said in an email the owners of the dam are opposed to decommissioning and removal of the dam.
“Electron Hydro LLC has absolutely no intention of participating in any decommissioning effort,” Spens stated.
The often-overlooked dam in the foothills of Mount Rainier dam burst into public light last August after an employee posted an alert on social media that the dam’s owners in late July had used artificial turf as a liner in a construction project at the dam. The turf was taken from a waste pile from a nearby quarry, and was not a material permitted for use in its project.
The material was quickly torn up by the river, sending a cascade of at least 6 cubic yards of crumb rubber and shreds of artificial turf downriver toward Puget Sound.
The spill is under investigation, and the federal Department of Justice has filed a civil lawsuit against the dam’s owners in connection with the spill, seeking at least $10 million in damages under the Clean Water Act and ordering a complete clean up of the debris.
Hunks of plastic liner and turf were found all over the Puyallup River, including at least 5,000 feet downstream of the construction site. The crumb rubber rapidly and widely dispersed into the river and has traveled at least 19 miles downstream, according to the suit.
The Puyallup flows to Commencement Bay and Puget Sound. Artificial turf is a consumer project suddenly in a new light since scientists recently found that tire dust is killing coho salmon in Puget Sound streams. The scientists called out the crumb rubber in artificial turf as one of the products made from scrap tires that need to be evaluated for toxic exposure to humans and the environment.
The state Department of Ecology in its own inspections of the spill, according to the suit, also found Electron Hydro had disturbed more than 4.5 acres than was authorized under its state construction stormwater permit, did not stabilize exposed soils and did not provide the required containment for equipment containing fuel to prevent spills.
Spens called the dam “an essential clean energy project,” and said the dam is presently undergoing a multi-million dollar investment with upgrades to provide fish passage. The completed project will be in compliance with requirements for fish protection under the Endangered Species Act, Spens said.
As the state looks to decarbonize its energy grid, “Electron Hydro, blessed with the snow and ice fields of Mount Rainier, will be an essential renewable resource community partner in this endeavor,” Spens said.