33 Studies to Provide Wealth of Environmental and Cultural Knowledge about Skagit Valley

Seattle City Light is spending over $20 million on studies about the Skagit Valley Watershed—home to the three dams that provide 20 percent of City Light’s renewable energy 

SEATTLE—More than 30 studies will help Seattle City Light and government agencies, Tribes and other regional partners understand the effects of the utility’s dams and opportunities to improve the watershed. Most of the studies will be included in the City’s application for the federal permit required to operate the dams, and include cultural, fish, agriculture, wildlife, water flow, and more. The studies will also provide insight about the effects of climate change. 

City Light is committing to additional actions as part of a commitment letter to watershed partners. These commitments include restoring flows to the section of river below Gorge dam as soon as possible.  

“Seattle City Light has a mission to provide our customers with affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible energy services. That responsibility includes honoring the environment and the people who make that electricity possible,” said Debra Smith, CEO and GM of Seattle City Light. “These studies will provide a much-needed update to our knowledge about the area, and guide our work for years to come.” 

The Revised Study Plan is the result of months of meetings and collaboration. With input from partners including Tribes, nonprofit organizations and local, regional, and federal agencies, City Light expanded the scope of many of the studies and increased the list of studies from the initially proposed 28 to 33. 

City Light made additional commitments to what would be required for license renewals. These commitments, formalized in a letter, include: 

  • Advisory panels will provide expert guidance on study design for key studies. 
  • Instream flows in the stretch of river below Gorge Dam will be restored as soon as possible and will be part of a long-term commitment in the new license. 
  • A Fish Habitat Fund will be established with a $2.5 million initial investment and $500,000 annually, to benefit Endangered Species Act-listed species in the Skagit River watershed. The fund will be administered by a joint board consisting of representatives of Seattle, the Upper Skagit, Swinomish, and Sauk-Suiattle Tribes, and federal and state resource agencies. 
  • Other early implementation protection, mitigation and enhancement (PME) measures: This relicensing process provides an opportunity for City Light and the licensing participants to jointly refine existing PME measures and develop new ones  to mitigate project impacts and improve the Skagit River watershed. While we work together to negotiate the conditions of the next license, City Light will work with the licensing participants to identify opportunities to implement these new PME measures as early as possible. 

“We are so grateful to our partners in this process,” Smith said. “We were feeling the crunch of the regulatory timeline, and they really helped us take a step back and see the bigger picture. They also worked closely with us to identify and design the studies that will be the most useful going forward. We have an extraordinary opportunity here to honor and preserve the watershed in the face of climate change. We all agree that the Skagit River is of unique importance and beauty, and together we can do amazing things.” 

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About City Light 

Seattle City Light, one of the nation’s largest publicly owned utilities, generates and delivers affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible power to the homes, businesses, and communities we serve. We provide carbon-neutral electricity, generated primarily from carbon-free hydropower, to over 900,000 residents in Seattle and the surrounding areas.