State should study breaching Ballard Locks, removing Seattle City Light dams, Ericksen says

  • Bill would launch study of restoring Seattle lakes and waterways to natural state
  • Skagit River would run free, mighty Ravenna Creek would flow again
  • Would return Lake Union, Lake Washington and Green Lake to historic levels

OLYMPIA – A bold new proposal from state Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, would launch a state study of breaching the Ballard Locks, removing Seattle City Light dams from the Skagit River, and restoring Seattle lakes and waterways to a pristine natural condition.

Ericksen has drafted legislation for introduction during the 2020 legislative session that he says could return Seattle to the natural paradise that existed before settlers arrived 168 years ago.

“Most of the support for breaching the Snake River dams seems to come from Seattle,” Ericksen said. “But if its citizens understood the environmental damage caused by big water projects right in their home town, I am sure they would want to lead by example.”

Ericksen’s proposal mirrors the $750,000 state study of breaching the Snake River dams approved by this year’s Legislature. That idea has been repeatedly studied and rejected by federal authorities, because of its limited environmental benefit and the economic hardship it would wreak on Eastern Washington. Democratic lawmakers from the urban Puget Sound area are hopeful the administration of Gov. Jay Inslee can devise a study that will reach a different conclusion.

Yet those Snake River projects are dwarfed by man-made alterations to Seattle-area waterways. A century ago, a navigable channel was dug to link Puget Sound to Lake Union and Lake Washington, and the lakes were partially drained to open thousands of acres of new land for development. Green Lake also was lowered, and what remained of once-scenic Ravenna Creek was routed through sewer pipes. Meanwhile, Seattle dam projects on the Skagit turned a free-flowing river into a languid reservoir.

“Many Seattle environmentalists seem to think the best way to rebuild fish runs to feed Puget Sound killer whales is to tear down faraway dams on a river system that doesn’t come anywhere close,” Ericksen explained. “But if we want to go destroying things at enormous expense in the name of the orca, there is no better place to start than Seattle.

“We might hear objections from owners of lakefront property and from those people in Seattle who choose to use electricity. But their sacrifice would be a small price to pay so that people who live hundreds of miles away could enjoy the environmental wonderland Seattle would become. Even if the Boeing plant in Renton is flooded out, I am sure the local economy could be reoriented to tourism.

“We might also think about rebuilding Denny Hill and restoring those lovely tideflats south of downtown, but let’s take this one step at a time.”