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Energized Environmental Vision Set for Skagit Hydropower Project

Seattle is fortunate in that most of our electricity comes from hydropower — the most reliable renewable energy resource now available. But even hydropower impacts the environment, and Seattle City Light works closely with our partners to develop science-based approaches to protecting the watershed and nearby communities.

The license we get from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is a representation of that commitment. On April 28, we submitted a final license application (FLA) that details the many different ways we’re going to steward the environment around the Skagit River Hydroelectric Project for the next 50 years.

Diablo Dam with Pyramid Mountain in the background

Although this is not actually the last step in the FERC relicensing process, the 15,000-page document is a huge milestone for City Light and its partners. It took multiple years and hundreds of meetings with Treaty Tribes, Canadian First Nations, federal and state regulatory bodies, environmental groups and nearby communities.

Our priorities

The scope of the FLA tells an important story about the responsibility City Light has in managing the dams and, essentially, the flow of the Skagit River itself. In fact, our first responsibility is not power generation — it is to provide flood-risk management for communities downriver from our project, to ensure appropriate flows for the many species of fish, and to provide education, recreation and other public benefits.

Photo of Ross Dam and Powerhouse.
Aerial view of 54-story Ross Dam

“While there is still a lot to do, we are so grateful to the dozens of license partners, City Light staff, and experts who have worked extraordinarily hard to put together the FLA,” City Light General Manager Debra Smith said in a press release issued Friday. “The next license will dictate how we operate the dams for decades, and it’s crucial that we carefully balance the need for renewable energy with the need to respect Tribal interests and be good stewards of the watershed.”

Our operational priorities for the Skagit project won’t change in the next license, but there are new measures that reflect climate change, partner and regulatory agency requirements, and tribal interests.

Applying the science

The FLA is based on more than $28 million in relicensing research studies. But even with all that data, the climate and the environment are changing faster than the license can adapt, and the next license includes more monitoring, more flexibility and more collaboration. Three big takeaways:

  1. Whole-ecosystem approach: The next license takes a whole-ecosystem approach to managing the hydropower project’s effects on the watershed.
  2. Adaptive management: The next license includes a robust/long-term monitoring program, which is essential to a flexible and adaptive management program.
  3. Comprehensive fish program that includes fish passage: The Skagit River is home to all five species of salmon, and we have worked with Tribes, the National Marine Fisheries Service and other key partners to develop a comprehensive fish program that will help protect and restore fish populations throughout the river. City Light has also been responsive to the interests of the Upper Skagit Indian Tribe, National Marine Fisheries Service and others, and we have proposed a fish passage program for passage across all three dams. We have also included an estuary and mainstem habitat restoration program that will provide critical rearing habitat for fish. 

Next steps

The final license application is a major milestone, but it’s not the final step in the relicensing process. FERC will do a multi-year review, and City Light will continue to collaborate with partners on ways to work together and improve the watershed. If you would like to read more, visit our Relicensing page.