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Paddlers Participate in Sultan Flow Study

Posted: 10/25/2007
by Thomas O'Keefe

This past weekend paddlers congregated on the Sultan River to enjoy a rare opportunity to experience a section of river that normally flows at only 20 cfs. While this reach of river once provided many weekends of dependable flows and was popular run in the late 1970's and early 1980's, construction of the Jackson Hydropower Project in the early 1980's essentially eliminated this great run except during rare spill events.

The opportunity this past weekend came as part of a flow study that was conducted by Snohomish PUD and their consultants as part of required studies necessary prior to relicensing of this hydropower project in 2011. This study came about due to interest from the boating community and requests from individuals that attended public meetings and wrote letters to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Following these comments FERC wrote to the utility in spring 2006 stating:

Project operations affect flows in an 11-mile-long reach of the Sultan River that could be used for whitewater boating if sufficient flows were available. After reviewing the information presented in the Pre-Application Document and the comments provided during the February 27 and 28 scoping meetings, we have identified a gap between existing information and the information needed to conduct the required analysis. We need to know the range of flows that would provide whitewater boating opportunities in the project bypassed reach of the Sultan River.

In the past we have posted information on scheduled maintenance activities that have resulted in flows in the river. Because this was a formal flow study however we were requested by the utility's consultants to provide no more than 15 individuals for the study. We invited individuals to participate who had previously run the Upper Sultan and assembled a team representing a spectrum of the boating community from those who have demonstrated interest at past public meetings and in correspondence to FERC. We were specifically requested not to make a broad public announcement of the study.

Boaters are pretty good at sniffing out a river with water though and several other individuals did attend. Everyone got down the river safely and the study was a success. We appreciate everyone's patience with the execution of the study and our selection of participants. Several months of negotiations and planning went into this study with the ultimate goal of providing opportunities for the public to fully enjoy this great resource.

Our focus group discussions each evening were very productive and we believe the interests of the boating community were well represented. Everyone who boated the river is invited to fill out an internet-based survey and provide input on preferred flows. If you were on the river and did not receive this invitation please contact us.

Flows on the river were as follows:

Friday Oct 19
325 to 365 cfs on Segment 2 (Put-in below Culmback Dam to the Diversion Dam)
540 to 690 cfs on Segment 3 (Diversion Dam to the powerhouse)

Saturday Oct 20
700 to 825 cfs on Segment 2 (Culmback to the Diversion Dam)
1,000 to 1,200 cfs on Segment 3 (Diversion Dam to the powerhouse)

Sunday Oct 21
900 to 950 cfs on Segment 2 (Culmback to the Diversion Dam)
800 to 980 cfs on Segment 3 (Diversion Dam to the powerhouse)

A big thanks goes out to Andy Bridge and Werner Paddles for local logistics, Will Robens and and Ryan Murray at Seattle Raft and Kayak who provided shuttle service for the study team, Bill Corson and his family who hosted the study team for dinner at Outdoor Adventure Center's River House in Index, and the staff from City of Everett and Snohomish PUD along with their consultants who went out of their way to make the study a success.
How Can I Get Involved?

Our formal involvement in the Jackson Project dates back to 1980 when members of the Washington Kayak Club, one of our original founding affiliate clubs, filed comments regarding the proposed construction of the Jackson Project. In requesting recreational flows, members of the club wrote: “The Sultan River’s picturesque canyon is one of the few remaining virgin navigable river valleys [in the region].”

Over the past week we received several questions regarding opportunities to get involved. There are a number of specific actions members can take to provide input and become informed of future opportunities to enjoy the Sultan River.

1) Write a letter to FERC highlighting the special qualities of this river and your interest in experiencing them. Specifically request to be placed on the project mailing list and note your interest in receiving written notice of future opportunities for public input.

All written filings must clearly identify “Henry M. Jackson Hydroelectric Project No. 2157-167” on the first page. The preferred method of filing your written comments is through FERC's eFile internet service or email your comments to AW and we will file for you. Alternatively you can send a hard copy to:

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, N.E., Room 1A
Washington, DC 20426

2) Contact Snohomish PUD Relicensing coordinator Dawn Presler, note your interest in whitewater boating, and ask to be placed on the project email list. Additional information on relicensing can be found at the Relicensing Website.

3) Sign up to join AW's River Network for the Upper Sultan. Go to the state page for Washington on the AW website and click the stars next to the river section description which should turn yellow. This registers you as a volunteer for the reach of interest and we will contact you regarding future opportunities.

American Whitewater's Goals

American Whitewater has a direct interest in river and riparian conservation and resource protection, appropriate public access to the river that protects resource values, and instream flows for the benefit of fishery resources, river and riparian condition, and recreation.

Of the more than 100 hydropower projects where American Whitewater has been a stakeholder, the Sultan River offers one of the most significant opportunities to provide whitewater recreation: the river is less than 1 hour from downtown Seattle and easily accessible as a day trip to a population of approximately 3 million people, the river flows through a secluded wilderness canyon with no maintained roads or trails along the river providing a rare wilderness type experience at the interface of the Puget Sound Lowlands and Cascade Foothills, the canyon is well-known as one of the most scenic in the region with waterfalls that cascade in hundreds of feet off the gorge walls producing dramatic displays, and the whitewater consists of class III and IV rapids for approximately 12 miles making it one of the longest runs of this class in the entire region. American Whitewater, including our individual members and affiliate clubs, have sought opportunities to enhance whitewater recreation at the Jackson Project from the time it was constructed representing more than 25 years of interest in this project.
Thomas O'Keefe
3537 NE 87th St.
Seattle, WA 98115
Phone: 425-417-9012

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.