Boundary Hydroelectric Project Receives National Historical Recognition

Boundary Hydroelectric Project from its Vista House

For more than 50 years, the Boundary Hydroelectric Project has powered Seattle with its clean, hydropower. At 340 feet tall, the concrete double-curvature arch of Boundary Dam cuts an imposing figure on the Pend Oreille River in northeastern Washington. In January, City Light submitted an application to the Washington Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation for Boundary to the National Register of Historical Places. Today, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation determined that Boundary meets the National Register criteria.

“Determining the Boundary Project’s eligibility for the National Register is a requirement of our license to operate the dam, but to be listed on the National Register is an honor,” explains City Light’s Mike Aronowitz. “It’s confirmation that the history and design of Boundary deserve to be nationally recognized and preserved.”

The nomination will now be sent to the Keeper of the National Register within the National Park Service, who makes the final listing decision.



City Light announced its plan to acquire the Boundary Dam site and construct a hydroelectric power plant Oct. 27, 1953. On July 10, 1961, City Light was issued a license by the Federal Power Commission, granting the utility permission to utilize a section of the Pend Oreille River and construct Boundary Dam. Construction began in August 1963 by carving out 500,000 cubic yards of the limestone mountain to make way for the world’s largest underground powerhouse at the time. The machine hall, which houses the turbines that generate electricity, was excavated to be 477 feet long, 76 feet wide and 15 stories below the ground. The dam itself was built to an astounding 340 feet tall, 32 feet at its base and eight feet at its crest. The reservoir that retains the water from the Pend Oreille River is 1,794 acres and 17.5 miles long, roughly three times the size of Lake Union.

The 1,040-megawatt Boundary Hydroelectric Project (Boundary Project) impounds the Pend Oreille River in a rural canyon north of Metaline Falls, in Pend Oreille County (pronounced Pon-deh-RAY), Washington, and is owned and operated by Seattle City Light (City Light) under Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) License No. 2144. Completed with four generation units in 1967, the multi-component facility was built between 1963 and 1967 and consists of a concrete variable-radius, double curvature, thin arch dam, an underground powerhouse, the Vista House, and other support and recreation-related built resources as were developed during the original construction period. The overall nominated district covers 167 acres, all located within the larger boundary for the FERC license.

The Boundary Project is located at river mile 17 on the Pend Oreille River in a narrow canyon in the Selkirk Mountains, in northeastern Washington, about ten miles north of the Town of Metaline Falls and one mile south of the U.S.-Canada border. Boundary is a multi-component project occupying 167-acres within the larger licensed area, and is operated by Seattle City Light under FERC License No. 2144.1 The individual resources of the Boundary Project were designed by multiple engineering firms and architectural firms as detailed below, under the direction of Herbert V. Standberg, City Light’s project engineer, with Cr. Hoidal and Robert L. Skone providing, respectively, civil and electrical engineering oversight.
The Boundary Project is documented as a “district” which includes the dam, forebay, powerhouse, transmission line, Vista House, and related recreational and support structures, tied together by the original looped road system from the controlled access point at the end of Boundary Road.

In 2013, City Light was issued a new license to operate Boundary through 2055. With the new license comes several important recreation developments that will directly benefit the local community and promote economic development. Improvements are already underway at the Forebay Recreation Area. Other enhancements are slated for Metaline Waterfront Park in 2018, followed by two new spectacular viewing locations and a portage trail for kayakers around Metaline Falls in 2019. A new hiking trail on the east side of the reservoir will be added in 2020.

Green Up Supports Renewable Energy with $1,000,000 in Grants

As one of the nation’s greenest utilities, Seattle City Light works hard to provide various ways customers can go green. Our Green Up program, which allows customers to support renewable energy development and education by paying an extra $3 or more on their utility bills, is a prime example of this. Since its inception in 2005, Green Up has been a popular customer choice, with nearly 18,000 participants in its lifetime.

Today, we’re proud to share that Green Up will support renewable energy projects and education programs at schools, public institutions and nonprofit organizations by providing $1,000,000 in grants, with $400,000 in 2017 and $600,000 in 2018. This is a significant marker for Green Up which previously distributed funds on an ad hoc basis with projects like Sonic Bloom at Pacific Science Center and solar residence halls at the University of Washington. Now, the program will provide direct grant funding for solar or other renewable energy installation and education projects in City Light’s service territory on a consistent funding cycle.

Education grants of up to $5,000 are intended to support projects that have a focus on educating students about renewable energy such a curriculum development, research, extracurricular activities, supplies and teacher training. Solar and innovation grants will focus on renewable energy installations by public, nonprofit and educational organizations. Most awards are expected to range from $25,000 – $50,000, with the maximum grant at $200,000.

For additional information, including application deadlines and program requirements, click here.

City Light Manages Skagit Flows to Protect 300,000 Salmon Eggs

Salmon eggs and fry in a redd, or nest.

Summer Chinook salmon spawn in the Skagit river from August through October each year — Photo by Dave Bickford, courtesty of U.S. Forest Service

Many Chinook salmon eggs laid in the Skagit River system last fall faced grim prospects for survival amid challenging water conditions. But a coordinated effort by Seattle City Light working with state and federal resource agencies and tribes along with an exceptionally wet March and April gave more than 300,000 of them the chance to grow up.

“From November through February, this appeared to be one of the worst water years we had seen in quite a while. It was some great teamwork and a huge increase in precipitation in March and April that really turned things around,” said Dave Clement, Resource Planning, Forecasting, and Analysis Director for City Light.

Chinook salmon spawning season typically lasts from mid-August to mid-October each year. This past September, during the peak of spawning activity, record rainfall levels allowed chinook salmon to dig nest sites in areas that would be dry when water levels returned to normal.

The summer Chinook salmon are a federally-listed species with Endangered Species Act protection. But dry weather conditions from November 2013 through February of this year meant those salmon eggs were likely to be left out to dry and die.

“The situation required the release of far more water from the hydro project than we had originally planned so as to protect as many of the salmon nest sites as possible,” explained David Pflug, fisheries biologist at City Light.

City Light manages flow levels in the Skagit River system to meet a several key objectives each year: protecting fish that live and spawn in the river downstream, generating sufficient power to meet the energy needs of our customers throughout the year, preventing floods downstream of the dams and keeping the river and Ross Lake at elevations that permit recreation such as boating and fishing. In addition, Ross Lake serves an important function as a reservoir to hold water that is used to generate electricity in drier times during the year.

The trick is managing the right water levels for each of these objectives, while working with highly variable precipitation levels that are ultimately decided on by Mother Nature.

That’s the situation City Light found itself in earlier this year. The region had one of the lowest levels of precipitation in more than a decade from November to February, and was facing perhaps one of the worst water years in history.

Ross Dam on the Skagit River creates Ross Lake, which is full for summer recreation and hydropower generation.

Pflug works closely with the utility’s Resource Planning staff, who plan optimum water levels. He discovered that there were many Chinook salmon redds spawned high on the riverbank in September during the rainy spawning season. The dry weather conditions during winter meant it would be difficult to protect the redds under normal operations.

That information went to the Skagit Project Flow Coordinating Committee comprised of state, federal fisheries resource agencies and tribe. City Light’s Resource Planning team worked with the committee to come up with a plan to protect the nest sites, which required the release of additional water and taking the risk of not being able to refill Ross Lake for use later in the year. With the survival of the Chinook at stake, the plan was approved.

City Light kept the river flow levels up to protect the salmon nests from November of 2013 to May of 2014. It took a significant amount of teamwork, including daily monitoring of water elevation levels and careful management to ensure the protection of the nests. Coordination between multiple divisions ensued, including Pflug, Power Management planners Ole Kjosnes and Don Tinker, the Power Marketing team and the System Control Center team. Continuing dry conditions also worried resource planners about the ability refill Ross Lake, which powers Ross Dam through the summer and is a key recreational area within the North Cascades National Park complex.


These graphs show the cumulative snowpack and precipitation levels, measured in inches. The blue line is the average level, while the green line tracks the dry water year of 2014. The yellow line, by way of comparison, measures levels during the severe dry spell of water year 2001.

Then came the wettest March in history.

And more precipitation in April.

That rain and the snow that fell higher up in the mountains provided the water for City Light to protect the redds and refill the lake. This voluntary effort resulted in the protection of 31 nest sites that would have otherwise been lost– a resounding success, especially considering their initial odds of survival.

Those 31 redds add up to approximately 300,000 protected salmon eggs.

A full Ross Lake will allow for increased river flows through July, enabling better protection of Steelhead that will be spawning the Skagit River and additional energy generation from City Light’s Ross, Diablo and Gorge hydroelectric dams.

“It was a good thing we released more water than we normally would have – because that made room in Ross Lake to collect more of the large amount of water that came in March and April and avoided some spill through the spill gates,” Clement said. “So in a way, the fish helped us out, too.”

Seattle City Light is the 10th-largest public electric utility in the United States. It has some of the lowest cost customer rates of any urban utility, providing reliable, renewable and environmentally responsible power to nearly 750,000 Seattle-area residents. City Light has been greenhouse gas neutral since 2005, the first electric utility in the nation to achieve that distinction. More information at: