The SVPA lawsuit challenges permit authorization by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) for the Puget Sound Energy (PSE) Snoqualmie Falls Hydroelectric Plant upgrades project. In authorizing the PSE project the Corps did not take into account the cumulative impact of the project downstream from the Snoqualmie Falls.
Since 2000, major upstream projects with downstream flood impact have included the Snoqualmie “205 Project” completed in 2005 (a $4.6 million flood reduction project for the City of Snoqualmie). The 205 Project widened the Snoqualmie River above the Snoqualmie Falls with the removal dirt and rock from the right and left riverbanks. The Corps estimated minimal impact downstream based on studies done during the 1980’s and 1990’s.
Three of the four largest floods on record in the lower valley have been in the last four years. The fourth was the 1990 flood. The 2006 and 2009 floods both set new records. (See here and here.)
In response to the 1990 record flood, King County enacted a “zero-rise floodway” regulation that placed restrictions on any project or development within the watershed.
Farms and businesses in the unincorporated areas of King County are subject to the zero-rise restrictions. However, the Corps failed to consider the zero-rise regulations in approving PSE’s project. PSE admits that the river widening and lower dam will increase flood levels below the falls. Despite this concern and the three massive flood events in the valley since completion of the Section 205 project, the Corps did not consider downstream flooding impacts caused by the PSE work.
Instead, the Corps utilized a short-cut permitting procedure that avoided doing any new environmental review. Specifically, the Corps utilized the Nationwide Permit program and classified the PSE project as maintenance and institutional development. The lawsuit challenges this procedure because the Snoqualmie Falls hydropower project is too large to qualify under the Nationwide Permit program. The lawsuit alleges that the Corps should have followed the individual permit process, which requires public involvement and thorough environmental review including consideration of downstream impacts. Had the Corps followed the right process, the Corps would have had to update its data to account for the recent flood events, and would have had to address downstream flooding impacts based on the updated data.