South Fork Skykomish River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers

New dam threatens State Scenic Waterway

May 15th, 2012

Brett Swift, American Rivers, (503) 827-8648
Thomas O’Keefe, American Whitewater, (425) 417-9012
Rich Bowers, Hydropower Reform Coalition, (360) 303-9625
Jeff Smith, Local property owner, (360) 799-0551
Andrea Matzke, Local property owner, (206) 910-6783

Washington, D.C. – American Rivers named the South Fork Skykomish River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers® today, shining a national spotlight on the threat a new dam poses to recreation, scenic vistas, wilderness, and wildlife. 

“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are facing a critical tipping point,” said Brett Swift, Northwest Regional Director for American Rivers. “We all need healthy rivers for our drinking water, health, economy, and quality of life. We hope citizens will join us to ensure a healthy Skykomish River for generations to come.”

The South Fork drops over a series of three waterfalls, each with one of the most dramatic backdrops in the nation, framing Mt. Index and the North Cascade Mountains. Two of these dramatic waterfalls, the 40 foot Canyon Falls and the 104 foot Sunset Falls, would be reduced to a trickle by a hydropower dam from the Snohomish Public Utility District. This project would impact fish and wildlife habitat, water quality and quantity, recreation, the aesthetic values of one of Washington’s most impressive rivers, and the character of the river community.

American Rivers and its partners call on the Public Utility District to abandon plans for a new dam and instead pursue more sustainable energy options. The National Hydropower Association estimates that America could double its hydropower capacity without building a single new dam. The region must work to institute energy conservation, increase capacity at existing hydropower dams through efficiency upgrades, and add turbines to non-powered dams where economically and environmentally feasible.

“While hydropower is a major contributor to our regional energy resources, any new development needs to be properly sited. Building a new dam on Western Washington’s only State Scenic Waterway, and one of our last remaining free-flowing rivers, is inappropriate and should not be pursued,” said Tom O’Keefe, Pacific Northwest Stewardship Director for American Whitewater.

“Anyone who has visited the Sunset Falls, Mt. Index, and Skykomish River area will immediately know that this is one project that should never have made it off the drawing board,” said Rich Bowers, Northwest Coordinator for the Hydropower Reform Coalition.  “It is great to see so many varied interests– boaters, anglers, hikers, and local residents– coming together to stop a project that would destroy such an impressive number of highly visible public values.”

“This is a project that should never have been given serious consideration. Placing a $150 million industrial project and dam in the Skykomish River will not only disfigure a hallowed place, but also forever damage a portion of the river and waterfalls that have flowed for eons,” said Jeff Smith, a local landowner. “Trading the permanent desecration of a wild and scenic place for the creation of a small amount of electrical power is a violation of the values and principles that have guided the laws and culture of the Northwest for many decades.”

“The South Fork of the Skykomish is one of the few unspoiled treasures in our state, and in our nation.  Its jaw-dropping vistas, with Mt. Index towering behind, rival the Alps and steal the breath of visitors from around the world.  It’s God’s example of perfection.  How can we, in good conscience, allow something so sacred to be destroyed for such a negligible return?  We’ve been blessed with the opportunity and responsibility to care for nature’s most spectacular gifts. We must do so, not only for ourselves, but for future generations,” said Andrea Matzke, a local landowner.

The Skykomish is one of Washington’s most popular rivers for fishing, paddling, inner tubing, and scenic beauty. The South Fork drains approximately 835 square miles, almost all of which provide outstanding whitewater recreation, angling and hiking opportunities, wildlife habitat, and economic benefits for the towns of Goldbar, Skykomish, and Index.  The South Fork Skykomish is a State Scenic Waterway, a Northwest Power and Conservation Council Protected Area, and is recommended for federal designation as a Wild and Scenic River for its remarkable scenic, recreational, fish, and wildlife values.

American Rivers named the Skykomish one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers® in 2005 because of the threat posed by poorly planned development.  Now, seven years later, another call to action is necessary to preserve what many have named the most beautiful river in the nation, and worthy of protection.

Now in its 27th year, the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.

America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2012:
#1: Potomac River (MD, VA, PA, WV, DC)
Threat: Pollution
At risk: Clean water and public health

#2: Green River (WY, UT, CO)
Threat: Water withdrawals
At risk: Recreation opportunities and fish and wildlife habitat

#3: Chattahoochee River (GA)
Threat: New dams and reservoirs
At risk: Clean water and healthy fisheries

#4: Missouri River (IA, KS, MN, MO, MT, NE, ND, SD, WY)
Threat: Outdated flood management
At risk: Public safety

#5: Hoback River (WY)
Threat: Natural gas development
At stake: Clean water and world-class fish and wildlife

#6: Grand River (OH)
Threat: Natural gas development
At risk: Clean water and public health

#7: South Fork Skykomish River (WA)
Threat: New dam
At risk: Habitat and recreation

#8: Crystal River (CO)
Threat: Dams and water diversions
At risk: Fish, wildlife, and recreation

#9: Coal River (WV)
Threat: Mountaintop removal coal mining
At risk: Clean water and public health

#10: Kansas River (KS)
Threat: Sand and gravel dredging
At risk: Public health and wildlife habitat


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About American Rivers

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Find your connections at AmericanRivers.org, Facebook.com/AmericanRivers, and Twitter.com/AmericanRivers.