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Relicensing for Sultan River (WA) begins

Posted: 10/26/2004
by Thomas O'Keefe

Snohomish PUD announces start of relicensing process on the Sultan River

The Sultan River cuts through a beautiful gorge with over 13 miles of classic pool-drop rapids, located just an hour from the greater Seattle area. There are almost no flat sections-medium-sized pools immediately lead into the next rapid. Aside from a potential wood portage, every drop is runnable and the difficulty factor is, for the most part, solid class IV, with a couple drops that may push class V. Most of the run can be boat scouted and nearly every rapid is big, fun, and has a clear route.

Unfortunately the boating opportunities once enjoyed on this river were significantly curtailed with the construction of the Jackson Hydroelectric project in the early 1980's. While the lower run below the powerhouse provides great boating throughout the year, the upper gorge that constitutes the bypass reach has a minimum instream flow requirement of only 20 cfs and rarely runs. Although there have been some recent improvements to access restrictions that were implemented due to security concerns, access to the river also remains a long-term issue (see background articles: access closure, access restored, trail improvements)

The Jackson Hydroelectric Project (FERC #2157) is licensed by the United States to the Snohomish County Public Utility District (PUD) and the City of Everett. The current project license will expire in June 2011 and the co-licensees plan to a file a formal declaration of their intent to relicense the Jackson Project at the end of 2005 (Project Relicensing Website). Hydro Relicensing offers the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the public to provide input on the future management of this river system.

The Upper Sultan gorge

First Public Meeting Announced

The PUD will soon be hosting the first open house for the public. The details are as follows and the public is invited to attend:

Date: Thursday November 4, 2004
Time: 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm
Location: Snohomish County PUD Headquarters Bldg., 2320 California Street, Everett, WA 98201 (map)
Please RSVP to Dawn Presler 425-793-1709,

Project staff will be available at display boards that address the various aspects of the project and at 5:30 there will be a short presentation.

The PUD will also be hosting a site visit for the project with FERC staff before the open house. American Whitewater will be represented at this meeting.

Powerhouse for Jackson Hydroelectric project on the Sultan River

How to Become Involved

Through the relicensing process American Whitewater will work in partnership with other agencies and organizations in representing the public interest in river access and flows to serve both recreation and river conservation needs. Formal recreation studies should begin within the next couple of years, but planning will begin soon.

This open house will be the first of several opportunities for public involvement. All interested boaters should join the project mailing list. Contact Dawn Presler ( with your name, address, email, and note your interest in whitewater recreation issues along with your specific request to be placed on the project mailing list.

If you'd like more information on how to participate in the process, have interest in a long-term commitment on behalf of recreation and river conservation issues, or have additional questions please contact any of the following individuals who have represented AW in preliminary discussions:

Andy Bridge, Sultan River AW StreamKeeper,
Thomas O'Keefe, AW Regional Coordinator,
John Gangemi, AW Western Access and Conservation Director,
Rich Bowers, AW Director,


Through the relicensing process, American Whitewater has restored more than 1,000 miles of whitewater rivers nationally over the past 12 years. These efforts, with the assistance of volunteer paddlers and affiliated clubs, have resulted in agreements to remove dams (White Salmon, WA; Sandy River, OR ; Elwha, WA), have opened new and never before run whitewater sections (Chelan Gorge, WA and Nisqually, WA), opened or improved river access areas (Canyon Creek, WA; along with ongoing negotiations at Snoqualmie Falls, WA), and have improved flows for fish, wildlife and human use (Spokane, WA).

Each of these restored river sections have proven to be outstanding whitewater runs! Some are less than 2 miles long (Tallulah, GA), some restore entire watersheds (Kern, CA), but all are critical in the effort to protect rivers and support whitewater recreation.

In terms of length, whitewater suitability, potential use and proximity to a major metropolitan area, the Sultan River relicensing could prove to be extremely important to whitewater boaters in the Northwest. Please volunteer to be a part of this effort!

Associated Projects

Sultan River (WA)
AW is working to improve flows and public access for the benefit of fish, wildlife, and paddlers as part of hydropower relicensing on this river.