Conservationist Mark Angelo still remembers the stunning natural beauty of the Similkameen River, which he paddled four decades ago.
But Washington state’s Enloe Dam — located just across the border from Osoyoos, B.C. — is not part of those fond memories. The dam, he says, wipes out the salmon and steelhead trout runs of the river.
Angelo leads the river protection advocacy program of the Outdoor Recreation Council of B.C., a Vancouver-based group he founded in 1976 that now works on behalf of 50 member organizations, including those representing canoeists, fly fishers, off-road motorcyclists, and hikers.
He’s been keeping a close eye on the Similkameen for decades.
Now, he has launched a campaign that calls upon the governments of B.C., Washington and the United States to tear down the structure and let the fish return.
“It always bothered me that salmon access to the river was prevented due to the defunct Enloe Dam,” he said to Chris Walker, host of CBC’s Daybreak South.
The 18-metre high, 88-metre wide dam was built a century ago as part of a hydropower project managed by a community-owned utility service provider in Washington, but it hasn’t generated any electricity since 1958.
Several years ago, the utility service provider said it had no intention to upgrade the structure, because such a project would cost $87 million US ($114 million Cdn), and the cost of electricity production after completion of the project would be 10 times higher than the average power production cost across Washington.
Angelo says building fish ladders is a possible solution to help fish get past the dam, but he feels it’s not worth the money and effort.
“The dam is old and decrepit,” he said. “Rather than invest[ing] a ton of money on fish ladders for a dam that is in the process of literally falling apart, probably it’s a much better option just to look at outright removal.”
As the former chair of BCIT’s Rivers Institute, Angelo has participated in projects removing dams in Washington state and British Columbia — including the Coursier Dam near Revelstoke and seven dams on the Britannia Creek watershed in Squamish.
He says there’s no better time than now to remove the Enloe Dam.
“You’ve got a new government in British Columbia that’s talked about wanting to do some very progressive things around water and rivers. You’ve got a new incoming federal government in the United States that I think will be environmentally focused to a greater degree. You’ve got a newly re-elected governor [Jay Inslee] of the state of Washington, once again wanting to do some positive things environmentally.”
In a written statement to CBC News, Washington’s Department of Ecology says it cannot order the utility service provider to remove Enloe Dam because the structure doesn’t pose any imminent danger to local residents.