News

PSE and Corps sign interim agreement

By Dennis Box, The Courier-Herald

Puget Sound Energy and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers signed an interim operating agreement on Dec. 29, 2003, allowing PSE to continue to operate the White River diversion dam, which in turn will keep the Corps' fish trap functioning.

The Corps, acting on behalf of the federal government, agreed to pay PSE $185,000 to keep the diversion dam operating.

The agreement is crucial to the survival of Lake Tapps and the protection of spawning salmon heading upstream in the White River. Without the protection of the interim agreement, PSE could no longer operate its diversion dam on the White River after it closes the nearly 100-year-old hydroelectric dam on Jan. 15.

"The main purpose of the interim agreement is to keep the diversion dam operating which keeps the fish trap going and that protects the salmon," Steve Cosgrove, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokesman, said. "It's a great agreement the everyone can make work. We're trying to make it a winning situation for everyone, but mainly the fish."

After seven years of negotiations, PSE decided on Nov. 21 to close its hydroelectric plant due to the high cost of obtaining a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license. Once the decision was made by PSE to close the hydroelectric operation, the last hope to save Lake Tapps hinged upon the fish trap.

"When our current license expires on Jan. 15 we will not be pursuing another license," Dorothy Bracken, spokesperson for PSE, said. "This is very helpful to have the interim agreement in place before the hydroelectric plant is closed. It reflects well that a collaborative arrangement could be reached."

The fish trap is used to trap spawning salmon and move them by truck to spawning grounds above Mud Mountain Dam. The rock and earth-filled dam was completed in 1948 to stop the yearly floods in the south King County and north Pierce County valley.

The Corps has been operating its fish trap since the completion of the dam.

At the time the dam was built fish ladders or bypasses were not put in dams. "Fish traps and trucking the fish became more common when people began to realize the fish were being threatened," Cosgrove said. 'Once you put in a gazillion tons of concrete it's tough to punch holes in it for fish ladders. The Corps has biologists and engineers working on this problem of fish ladders and bypasses all the time."

Lake Tapps may be coming into 2004 with a brighter outlook on its future, but the problems are far from solved.

"PSE will continue to work on a future arrangement with Cascade Water Alliance that will convert Lake Tapps into a drinking water supply," Bracken said.

PSE holds the consumptive water right to Lake Tapps and intends to sell it to Cascade Water Alliance. The water right, which was issued to PSE by the Department of Ecology, is facing an appeal before the Pollution Control Hearing Board. The appellants are the Puyallup and Muckleshoot Indian tribes, the cities of Auburn, Buckley, Pacific, Algona and a private citizen.

The Corps and PSE have both stated the lake's water level will be kept at recreation level. "We will monitor the level and adjust as needed," Bracken said. "Water will continue to move through the lake."

Dennis Box can be reached at dbox@courierherald.com

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