Dam Removal on Sullivan Creek Begins Next Week! (WA)

posted September 6, 2017
by Kevin Colburn

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Excavators are in place at Mill Pond Dam on Northeastern Washington's Sullivan Creek, poised to begin chipping away at the 50-foot tall dam on Tuesday, September 12th, 2017. Removing the concrete dam, and an older log-crib dam under the reservoir is expected to take a couple months. American Whitewater played a significant role in negotiating this dam removal, and we are excited to watch the progress this fall.

Mill Pond Dam was built in 1909 and generated power until 1956, when the hydropower generation facilities were dismantled and abandoned. In 2007 Federal regulators agreed to give up jurisdiction over the project, however American Whitewater, the Kalispel Tribe, the US Forest Service, and Washington State won an appeal of that decision. This success launched 2 years of collaborative negotiations that lead to a landmark Settlement Agreement in March of 2010, calling for the removal of Mill Pond Dam, and enhanced operation of a second dam on a tributary (Sullivan Dam). 

Paying for removal of Mill Pond Dam, owned by a small rural Public Utility District with under ten thousand rate-payers, was a major concern for everyone involved. Collaborative meetings revealed a great win-win opportunity for Seattle City & Light to pay for removal as mitigation for their nearby (and massive) Boundary Dam. This solution, as well as a creative new flow regime from Sullivan Dam that increased irrigation revenue, offered significant financial benefits to local rate-payers. American Whitewater continued our involvement after the settlement, and successfully advocated for the restoration of Sullivan Creek's historic natural channel under the reservoir, and for restoration techniques that respect recreation and natural processes.

Mill Pond Dam is a case study in how we as a nation can respond to shifts in energy demands and availability in a way that restores the environment behind us as we move forward. Like many energy projects including dam removals, this one will cause major changes to an area that people have been visiting for many years. We acknowledge and respect that this dam removal will have some mourning the loss of the reservoir while others celebrate the rebirth of a river.

Paddlers can watch the removal online in time lapse on this link by going to the Progress Gallery tab, pressing the three-line menu button, and then the play button. While normally dam releases from Sullivan Dam provide predictable paddling releases each fall in the gorge below both dams, this year and possibly next year flows will be managed to flush sediment from the reservoir as it is drained in pulses up to 600cfs. We advise paddlers not to paddle Sullivan Creek this fall. It will be interesting to see what rapids are exposed under the reservoir, and what the sediment flush does to the sediment-starved gorge downstream.

We’d like to thank all the creative and open-minded people that worked together to solve so many problems and reach such a positive outcome. In a matter of a couple months Sullivan Creek will be an outstanding free-flowing whitewater trout stream for the first time in 111 years!



Associated Projects

  • Sullivan Creek (WA)
    Two dams in the Sullivan Creek watershed no longer generate power. One will be removed as the result of a 2010 Settlement Agreement.

Associated Rivers

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