Skykomish River hydropower project nuked

Last year the South Fork of the Skykomish River joined the ranks of the down-and-out on American Rivers’ 10 most endangered rivers list. The reason: Snohomish County PUD had proposed to build a dubious run-of-the-river hydropower project at Sunset Falls that would have diverted a 1.1 mile section of water, through a tunnel and powerhouse.

The project received immediate and sustained local-and-regional pushback because it threatened to adversely impact both ESA-listed salmon and steelhead populations. But this month, just as the 2018 most endangered rivers list was revealed, Snohomish PUD withdrew its permit applications, effectively canceling the project.

"As the [human] population of Puget Sound grows, healthy habitat is critical to maintaining and recovering the chinook salmon, steelhead, and bull trout," said Wendy McDermott with American Rivers. “Had the project gone ahead, it would have been bad new for the fish—specifically their outmigrating smolts."

The US Forest Service recommended the South Fork Skykomish for federal Wild and Scenic status in 1990. While that hasn’t happened yet, the river is part of the Washington state Scenic River system and is designated as a Protected Area by the Northwest Power and Conservation Council.