Safeguarding Skagit: Inside the Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade

City Light’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project provides clean and efficient energy to Seattle’s customers, and its idyllic location provides spectacular, Instagram-worthy views of the North Cascades and Diablo Lake. Being nestled in such a remote location does have its advantages, but it can also provide its share of challenges when minutes count. During an emergency—whether someone has a bump or bruise during a dam tour or is involved in a serious traffic accident on the North Cascades Highway—a team of City Light employees take action, changing from their daily roles at the utility to act as members of the Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade.

For almost 60 years, this mostly volunteer group of first responders has gone above and beyond their assigned work duties at City Light to safeguard the residents and property of City Light, the Skagit Project and the North Cascades National Park. Fire Brigade Chief Cody Watson explains “the brigade fights fires and provides an emergency response like a typical fire department would; there are situations that require backup.” That’s why in 2008, a specialized group called the Skagit Technical Response Team (STRT) was created to supplement the brigade and provide aid during unusual rescue situations. Like the brigade, STRT is a team of City Light employees who are trained beyond their day-to-day skills.

In 2016, the brigade was crucial to the containment of the Goodell Creek Fire, which severely threatened the Skagit Hydroelectric Project and the surrounding communities. For Watson, an emergency of any size is important because of the brigade’s local impact.

“We have helped friends, family, co-workers and strangers who are often having the worst day of their lives,” says Watson. “The brigade provides services that no one else in this geographical area can. When the fire alarm goes off, they have to switch gears and put on a different hat. We have a pretty extraordinary team up here.”

Last November, the fire brigade added a new vehicle to their fleet, a state-of-the-art ambulance. The new vehicle replaced a unit that had been in service for nearly 25 years. Watson and the brigade worked closely with the City Light Fleet and Mobile Equipment team to build a unit that meets their unique needs. Some of the unique features include snow chains that engage with a flip of a switch, a hydraulic lift and cabin airbags to protect first responders when treating a patient.

Thank you, Newhalem-Diablo Fire Brigade, for keeping the City Light employees and its visitors safe!


Experience the majestic beauty of the North Cascades next summer on a Skagit Tour. Skagit Tours provide a fun and educational experience for people of all ages. Visit for more information!

City Light Completes Repairs on Newhalem Penstock

A Seattle City Light contractor recently completed a year long project at the Skagit Hydroelectric Project to replace 52 deteriorating, wooden saddles that support the Newhalem Penstock. The old wooden saddles were replaced with new, cast-in-place concrete saddles that will provide structural support so that the penstock will not collapse.

Original wooden saddles (left image) that support the Newhalem Penstock were replaced with new, concrete saddles (right image).

The Newhalem Penstock is located on the south bank of the Skagit River, in the town of Newhalem, WA. The project is within the Ross Lake National Recreation Area, which is part of the North Cascades National Park Complex.

The penstock is a pipe that provides water from the creek to the hydro turbines that are located inside the historical Newhalem Powerhouse. The water turns the turbines, which produces electricity for City Light.

Seattle City Light thanks all campground visitors for their patience during the successful completion of this project.

Learn about this project and others by visiting Seattle City Light’s “At Work in Your Neighborhood” website.

Seattle City Light Evacuates Diablo as Goodell Creek Fire Approaches

Seattle City Light started evacuating employees Wednesday from the town of Diablo and helped evacuate visitors at the North Cascades Institute’s Environmental Learning Center on Diablo Lake and at the Ross Lake Resort as the Goodell Creek Fire approached facilities at the utility’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project.

The fire was burning on the north side of Highway 20 in Newhalem across from City Light’s Skagit administration building and east of the Gorge Powerhouse. Prevailing winds were pushing the fire east toward Diablo.

Highway 20 between the utility-owned towns of Newhalem and Diablo was shut down by a fallen tree and numerous rocks loosened by the fire.

No injuries have been reported. All City Light employees and their families are accounted for. Two employees did leave Newhalem earlier in the day after complaining of respiratory difficulties from the smoke.

City Light was operating its three dams remotely, but the fire forced the utility to shut down the transmission lines that carry electricity from the hydroelectric project. Spillgates at all three dams were being opened to maintain river flows to protect fish. The inability to deliver electricity could cost the utility about $100,000 per day.

Six City Light firefighters with two fire engines were working to protect people and property from the blaze. One crew was working with the National Park Service. The other was defending the Gorge Powerhouse.

Skagit Tours scheduled for Thursday through Sunday have been canceled.

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 about 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.

Seattle City Light Lowering Diablo Lake for Boat Landing Repairs

Seattle City Light is making repairs to boat landings near the Ross Powerhouse at the utility’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project that will require lowering Diablo Lake.

A 2010 rockslide destroyed a landing for heavy-haul barges that carry heavy equipment to and from the Ross Powerhouse.  Six transformers now in use at the powerhouse are due for replacement, starting in 2016. A light duty landing survived and has been in use since the rockslide, however, it requires a sharp turn that the semi-tractor trailers that will transport the 80-ton replacement transformers cannot make.

A pickup parked near the National Park Service boat landing was hit by the 2010 rockslide.

The $1.5 million project will install a new barge landing and swap locations for two docks used by the National Park Service and a ferry that carries visitors to Ross Lake.

To avoid environmental impacts on the lake, construction needs to be done above the water line. City Light plans to lower the lake level either May 21 or 26. Construction will continue through June 15, when the utility will return the lake to its regular operating level.

A similar draw down will be done, starting Sept. 15 through Nov. 1 to complete the work.  If needed, another draw down may be scheduled in spring 2016.

Draw downs will limit boat movement and recreation. Among the impacts, Colonial Creek Boat Ramp, Colonial Creek canoe launch, boat-in camping at Buster Brown and Thunder Point, the National Park Service dock and the ferry dock will be unusable during some or all of the construction.

Last year, City Light improved the road from the landing and docks to enhance safety.

The access road for the docks in 2013.

The access road after safety improvements.

Ross Lake Now Open for Fishing

Ross Lake is formed by Ross Dam, part of Seattle City Light’s Skagit Hydroelectric Project.

The return of summer opens new opportunities for exploring the rugged and beautiful North Cascades, including Ross Lake, which is now open for fishing.

The North Cascades are a popular destination for fishing, wildlife viewing and outdoor recreation. They are also home to three hydroelectric dams supplying green renewable energy to the city of Seattle and Seattle City Light. Ross Lake is City Light’s largest hydroelectric reservoir and is a popular trout fishing destination. Home to native rainbow trout and federally protected bull trout, Ross Lake also contains cutthroat and eastern brook trout. Seattle City Light is committed to environmental stewardship and supports public land along the Skagit River.

Overnight accommodations near Ross Lake are available and include developed campgrounds within the North Cascades National Park complex and the floating Ross Lake Resort. There is a public boat launch at the north end of the lake accessible through British Colombia and several boat-access on the east shore and south end.

According to the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife (, September and October are the best times to catch Rainbow trout and July and August offer “fair” prospects. Anglers are permitted to keep three fish per day excluding the protected native char. Fishing licenses are required and can be obtained through onsite at Ross Lake Resort.