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Sultan Releases for Three Days in December

Posted: 01/04/2006
by Thomas O'Keefe

With temperatures hovering around freezing and a fresh blanket of snow, boaters converged on the Sultan River for a rare opportunity to paddle the bypass reach between Culmback Dam and the Jackson Powerhouse this past December. Pioneered by Northwest legends Bob Artis, Rolf Peterson, and others in the 1970's the reach known as the Upper Sultan was a local favorite prior to enlargement of the dam in the early 1980's which now "more efficiently" captures water and sends it down the penstocks instead of the river. Although paddlers participated in public hearings prior to development of the hydro project in its current form, this was before the Electric Consumers Protect Act of 1986. This legislation amended section 4(e) of the Federal Power Act requiring FERC to give "equal consideration" to non-developmental interests including the "protection of recreational opportunities". Since the establishment of AW's hydro program in the late 1980's and a meeting with Snohomish PUD in November of 1993, AW has awaited the opportunity that relicensing presents for a formal review of opportunities for whitewater recreation on the Sultan River. With the filing of a Pre Application Document and Notice of Intent to relicense the project, in December of 2005, that process is now finally underway.

While formal studies of whitewater resources and all other aspects of the project will take place over the next couple years, AW was informed of an opportunity for boating the river the week of December 12th as part of equipment testing that was scheduled. While the testing took place the PUD initiated a rare release from Culmback Dam restoring 650 cfs to the bypass reach which proved to be a level adequate for navigation (optimal flows remain to be determined). Paddlers had to hike in over a washed out road and down an informal miner's trail into the gorge and faced the challenge of safely navigating the 12 miles of whitewater on a short winter day. Despite these challenges and the fact that the release was scheduled on short notice over the work week, there were 29 paddlers on Monday, 6 on Tuesday, and 3 on Wednesday who pulled a trip together on short notice after testing was extended for a third day.

The PUD asked paddlers to fill out a survey after completion of the run and we should be seeing a report from this sometime in the next few months. Results from this effort will provide important information necessary to design appropriate studies required as part of the relicensing process. AW thanks all the boaters who came out for this event and the good-faith effort by the PUD to inform the community of this opportunity.

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.