Similkameen River dam proposal eyed in U.S.

September 19, 2007

Washington State is proposing to inundate lands of the Lower Similkameen and Colville Tribes, with a dam on the Similkameen River.

Doug Johnson, engineering manager for the Washington State department of ecology, was speaking to delegates at an Osoyoos Water Science Forum Monday.

He said they have a budget of $200 million to pursue development of water supplies for in-stream and out-of-stream uses of water from the Okanagan Basin.

That includes a proposal from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, who surveyed the Columbia River in the 1920s and recommended a dam project on the Similkameen River at Shanker’s Bend.

The high dam proposal is for an 80-metre high dam which would backup water well back into Canada on the Similkameen River.

There are also proposals for a medium-sized project which would keep inundated land on the U.S. side of the border, and a smaller dam.

However, he said the $260 million plan to create 1.7 million acre feet of storage on both sides of the border, would provide plenty of cheap, cold water at a cost of just $153 per acre foot.

It could include a diversion to the Okanagan Basin system to cool water in the southern part of the system.

The proposal is currently just under discussion, but he hopes to have a contract with the Corps of Engineers to move ahead with the first phase of a study soon.

“All options are being looked at,” he said.

Brian Symonds, director of regional operations for the Water Stewardship Division of the environment ministry, said B.C. has generally advocated extreme caution regarding large scale interbasin diversions, and there is legislation in place that prevents diversion of high flows.

In response to a question from Tom Siddons, chair of the Okanagan Water Stewardship Council, Symonds said the Similkameen River hasn’t had much control on the Canadian side of the border, although a lot of studies have been done in the past.

There are sites on that river where hydro projects have been considered, he said, but no decisions have been made.

Siddons said the International Joint Commission should seriously consider controlling the erratic flow of the Similkameen at Princeton for the benefit of both residents below Oroville and with a link above the Osoyoos oxbows to cool the water in the Osoyoos Lake system and flush it.