Enloe Dam (Okanogan County)

  • By Jeff Creighton
  • Posted 11/20/2022
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 22595
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Enloe Dam represents an early effort to harness the power of the Similkameen River in Okanogan County. Built in 1919-1920 by the D. J. Broderick Company, with engineering by C. F. Uhden, the dam is located in the Similkameen River Valley a few miles downstream from the Canadian border at the site of a rock wall over which the river spilled. The dam provided power services from 1920 until 1958, but has sat idle ever since. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Since 1981, the Okanogan Public Utilities District (PUD), owner of the dam, "has attempted three different efforts to re-energize Enloe Dam and each effort was abandoned due to high costs, environmental and legal challenges, and uncertain power markets" ("The Story of Enloe Dam").

Legend of the Similkameen

Indigenous people near the Similkameen River attribute the creation of Squantl Falls, the cataract at which Enloe Dam was built, to Coyote. "Coyote is a major mythological figure for most Native American tribes, especially those west of the Mississippi. Like real coyotes, mythological coyotes are usually notable for their crafty intelligence, stealth, and voracious appetite. However, American Indian coyote characters vary widely from tribe to tribe. In some Native American coyote myths, Coyote is a revered culture hero who creates, teaches, and helps humans" ("Native American Coyote Mythology"). According to a 1979 manuscript written by Dixie LeMay, a longtime resident of Okanogan County:  

"The 'Rock Wall' was the Indian name for the Squantl (Similkameen) Falls. The name Squantl Falls was recorded for the first time by Smith & Caulkins in their U.S. Geological Survey Report titled 'A Geological Reconnaissance Across the Cascade Range' (1904). The non-Indian name for the falls before the building of the dams was Similkameen Falls. Being about 33 feet high and fairly perpendicular, the falls created a barrier beyond which anadromous fish appear never to have migrated. Susan Cohen (May 1979), an Indian woman, states that 'there have never been any salmon in the Similkameen north of the Rock Wall.' Cohen explained that her ancestors would gather at the base of the Rock Wall to catch the salmon as they made their annual run up the Okanogan River and into the lower part of the Similkameen, but only to the base of the falls. Indian legend has it that animals built the Rock Wall so as to trap the fish, thereby providing the wild animals with a source of food" (LeMay, 1979).

The area near the Rock Wall also has been called "small place of groundhogs," though the origins of this name are unclear. The Coyote legend describes Coyote obtaining Groundhog as his wife, which may explain the name. One source indicates that her father came to the site to hunt groundhogs. It is not clear if this name traces to the Coyote legend, or if it simply reflects the fact that it was a good place to hunt groundhogs.

Enloe Dam Beginnings

The Similkameen Falls provided opportunities for early power production. The earliest known power production on the river was within the Similkameen Valley proper. An elderly German settler named Kruger placed a small waterwheel on a shaft and lowered it into the river, though the precise locations of the waterwheel and powerhouse have been lost to time. The first powerhouse with its small generator furnished electricity for the mining town of Golden, six miles to the south.

In 1902, J. M. Hagerty organized the Similkameen Power Company. A man of many talents, Hagerty was heavily involved in mining in the Loomis and Nighthawk territory of Okanogan County. It was Hagerty's other talents for which he may be best remembered, for he was not so much a mining man as he was a promoter, successful at attracting capital to Okanogan properties. In 1913 (eight years after his death) a local newspaper portrayed Hagerty as an untiring hustler, genial, optimistic, a good mixer, and clever at presenting the bright side of a proposition. In 1903, he secured the water and land rights on the Similkameen River, approximately 3.5 miles above Oroville at Similkameen Falls. He spent the next three years developing the site. Hagerty built a wooden crib dam above the falls to divert water to the powerhouse below the falls. All the equipment was hauled from Republic to Oroville by wagon train at great expense. The wooden dam and powerhouse were completed in 1906, about a year after Hagerty's death, and the enterprise was carried on by the executors of his estate.

The plant supplied power and light to the towns or Oroville and Nighthawk. It also supplied electricity to a 100-horsepower pump for the local irrigation project. The dam had contracts with the Owasco and Ivanhoe mines, where electric power was to be used in driving a 4,000-foot tunnel at the latter operation. The Ruby and Caaba mine also was supplied with power, as was the Wannacut Lake mining camp of Golden. Evidence of the transmission line to the mining camp can still be found.

J. L. Harper and his associates in Republic leased the power plant in June 1910. Operating under the name North Washington Power Company, the consortium signed a 10-year lease obligating the company to put a power line to Republic from Oroville to service the Republic mines mills. Construction of the line from Oroville to Republic was to have begun in September 1910. In October of the same year, J. E. McFarland, superintendent of the North Washington Power Company, had made plans to add 950 horsepower to the Hagerty powerhouse.

It appears that the North Washington Power Company failed to accomplish either of its goals. In 1913, executors of the Hagerty estate moved to cancel the lease for failure to build the power line to Republic. The executors at the time of the cancellation also decided to sell the property. The local press called the dam and site the most "meritorious property" and "the most valuable" property in the county because of its potential power production (Demuth, 2014). From the time of its construction in 1906 to 1913, $125,000 had been invested in the dam and powerhouse, which generated 450 horsepower.

It appeared that with the railroad's advance into Oroville, the selling of the power site could easily be achieved. That was not to be the case, however, as by May 1913, no bids had been received for the dam. The executors of the Hagerty estate found it hard to believe that a power site with its potential was undesirable. The reason for the lack of bids may have been the condition of the Hagerty wooden crib dam. The powerhouse appeared to be in fair condition, but the crib dam was in such disrepair that nothing short of building a new dam could increase power production.

Interest in the power potential of the site appeared to be growing when, in 1915, the Okanogan Water Company contested the water rights of the Similkameen Power Company founded by Hagerty. The West Okanogan Valley Irrigation District opposed the claims of both power companies, seeking the opportunity to develop power in connection with its irrigation system. Bo Sweeney, Assistant Secretary of the Department of the Interior, awarded the title of rightful claimant to the water power in the Similkameen River to the Similkameen Power Company.

Eugene Enloe

Eugene Enloe incorporated the Okanogan Valley Power Company (OVP) on June 10, 1913. By 1914 the OVP had acquired a power plant on the Methow River managed by Nixon-Kimmel Company of Spokane, and the property of Paul McHugh at Okanogan. The acquisition of these properties gave the OVP all the developed hydroelectric power generating sites in the Okanogan Valley, except one -- Similkameen Falls, with the greatest potential for power generation. When the OVP secured the hydroelectric rights to the Similkameen River with purchase of the Similkameen Power Company in 1916, it gave Enloe complete control over that area of Okanogan County.

Enloe, who is known in North Central Washington today by the dam that bears his name, first "went big" when he began buying up small power companies in the Pacific Northwest. Before this enterprise he had been "merely owner of a small store in Medical Lake." The smallness appears to have been relative, for Edward's History of Spokane County states that there were three large warehouses included in the Medical Lake business, "one of groceries, one of hardware, and one of clothing" ("Enloe Dam, One ...," 1983). By 1922, Enloe was well on his way to amassing a fortune in the field of power development.

Previously, Enloe had managed the Big Bend Light and Power Company from 1910 to 1912. In 1914 he had the Enloe Electric Company, and from 1918 to 1922 he added the Enloe Investment Company, the Grangeville Light and Power Company, and the Republic Power Company. It is said that throughout his career in the power field he "served 45 towns." His last big power venture was in Drumheller, Alberta, Canada ("Enloe Dam, One ...," 1983).

Construction of Enloe Dam is described in a 1990 Historic American Engineering Report (HAER) by Craig Holstine and John Eminger: 

"Early Okanogan County residents may have been isolated, but that doesn't mean they were unaware of progress in the rest of the country. The expanding use of electricity in many urban areas was an idea that was seized upon by the early citizens of this county. The concept of using water power to generate electricity was a good fit for the county as there was an abundance of rivers and streams whose energy was waiting to be tapped. The Similkameen River was one of those and it became the site for the Enloe Dam, one of the most significant and enduring structures built during the early years of Okanogan County.

"On reporting the sale of the Similkameen Power Company to Okanogan Valley Power Company, the Oroville Weekly Gazette noted that the new owners were planning to spend approximately $100,000 on enhancing power production by building a concrete dam (Oroville Weekly Gazette, 1916). Construction of Enloe Dam began in 1919 and was nearing completion in the spring of 1920. Although significant in a local context, the dam could not compare with other hydroelectric plants in the state in so far as the amount of horsepower generated or the cost of construction and installation were concerned. The Okanogan Independent describes the local engineering feat at the dam, as it 'involved engineering features comparable in their magnitude and the ingenuity required in their solution to any that have been met with in similar undertakings in the country' (Okanogan Independent, 1920).

"The design plans and survey were drawn and conducted by C. F. Uhden, an engineer of impeccable credentials. Before the contract with OVP, Uhden had written a well-received article in the Journal of Electricity (September 1914) on Washington Water Power Company’s hydroelectric generation and distribution system. The article, of a very technical nature, showed signs of a very capable man. Uhden completed the design plans for Enloe in 1916, while the survey of the site was not completed until July 1919.

"Construction of the powerhouse proved to be an equally difficult feat of engineering. The red brick and concrete plant is of considerable dimension, measuring 83 feet long and 43 feet wide. Situated approximately 800 feet downstream from the dam, the powerhouse is nestled in a man-made hollow in a sheer rock cliff on the west side of the Similkameen gorge. Mace Reed worked at both the Hagerty and Enloe powerhouses as a young man. After completion of the new powerhouse, Reed helped move everything to the new Enloe powerhouse. He recalled, 'the new powerhouse was all built [of] concrete ... it was a modern building at the time ... there was quite a porch ... [and] the maintenance was very [limited], nothing to it' (Reed 1988).

"Eugene Enloe spent $150,000 of his own money on the new dam; a total of $350,000 was invested in the Similkameen River project. The dam generated 2,000 horsepower upon completion of the first unit, with space for an additional unit of 3,000 horsepower planned. In July 1922 Enloe Dam drew the attention of large power companies. Washington Water Power (WWP) had already extended a power line into Grant County early in 1922. That year WWP approached Eugene Enloe expressing interest in acquiring the facility. On January 1, 1923, Enloe sold the property to WWP. WWP then installed (1923) a second penstock from the dam and a 3,500-horsepower unit in the powerhouse. The company also constructed cottages (since removed) near the east abutment of the dam to house operators of the facility.

"WWP continued to operate Enloe Dam and powerhouse until 1942, when Public Utility District No. 1 (PUD) of Okanogan County acquired the property. The PUD ceased operation of the power generators on 29 July 1958, when the Bonneville Power Administration’s high-voltage transmission line brought abundant power to the Okanogan Valley. Operation of Enloe Dam then became unprofitable. One of the penstocks, which had largely collapsed, was sold for salvage. Vandalism of the powerhouse led to installation of a locked gate across the abandoned railroad grade, and removal of the foot bridge across the river further isolated the building."

The shut-down of the power generators in 1958 was big news in the area. "After being harnessed and bridled for 50 years, the turbulent Similkameen River will be set free July 20," reported the Omak Chronicle. "That day the Okanogan County Public Utility District will suspend operations at the 38-year-old hydro plant four miles northwest of Oroville. On July 20 the quivering penstocks, whirling impulse wheels, and spinning generator rotors will come to a stop. So will the way of life of the families who live at the dam. At the point where the arching concrete dam forms a border between the placid reservoir surface and the rocky downstream channel you leave the crooked, dusty county road running from Oroville to Nighthawk and zigzag down a steep one-way track to the dam. At the foot of the hill, you find a cluster of aging but pleasant tree-shaded white cottages grouped on an acre of riverbank beach land. Before you lies the reservoir, and a few steps away the dam. And a hundred feet down the gorge, the old brick powerhouse crouches against the wall below two squat surge tanks ... The first three of the present houses at the dam site were built in 1924. The previous year, Washington Water Power Company had purchased the property and doubled its generating capacity by installing a second penstock, wheel, and generator. Mr. and Mrs. Frazier arrived in 1926. Except for one brief period, Frazier was an operator there all through the WWP’s tenure and during the PUD operation since 1945, until he became foreman following Linscott's retirement" ("Families Leaving Gorge").

Holstein and Eminger's 1990 report detailed technical aspects of Enloe Dam and its powerhouse: 

"The Enloe dam is a gravity-arch structure containing over 9,700 cubic feet of concrete. Its spillway stands approximately 54 feet above the streambed, where its base width is over 41 feet. At the top of the 276-foot crest, the concrete is about six feet in width. Upstream, the face of the structure is vertical, while the opposite face of the spillway is inclined downstream, with a 20-degree arch at its foot. Wooden flashboards once retained the now unregulated flow over the spillway. Metal pipe, six inches in diameter embedded one foot in depth in the concrete abutments, anchored the flashboards, which were capable of rising the pool level five feet behind the dam.

"Atop the right (west) abutment are hoisting devices, controlling the sluice gates that provide water to the penstocks. The devices were installed at the downstream end of the intake bays, and consist of heavy metal gears and threaded stems mounted on concrete fittings. The tapered metal housing around the vertical threaded riser stems is stamped with the name of the manufacturer, C. D. Butchart Company, of Denver, Colorado. A metal cabinet containing unspecified equipment stands behind the hoisting machinery. Open to the elements, the unroofed area containing the machinery is enclosed on the downstream and riverbank sides by concrete walls standing about three and a half feet high. 

"Stamped into the downstream wall of the dam on the west abutment is the inscription, 'Enloe Dam 1920,' commemorating the official name of the facility and its date of completion. Below the inscription at the foot of the abutment are steel outlet pipes seven feet in diameter, and extending eight feet from the concrete. Sluice gates, six feet in diameter, manufactured by the Butchart Company, are seated in the abutment behind the pipes. At one time, two seven-foot diameter wood stave penstocks were connected to the pipes [both penstocks have since been removed, the second penstock was partially razed in 2021]. Mounted on timber supports, in places atop riprap fill, the remaining penstock once extended 743 feet downstream to two elevated surge tanks. Designed to absorb surges of water through the system, the metal tanks stand directly above the penstocks of heights of 32 and 25 feet respectively, with the taller tank being 17 feet in diameter, and the smaller tank 24.5 feet in diameter.

"The two steel portions of the penstocks drop from the surge tanks into Pelton turbines installed in the powerhouse, a structure occupying a narrow ledge carved from solid rock cliffs on the west bank of the river. Measuring 83 by 40 feet, the building consists of red brick walls atop a concrete foundation, topped by a gabled, corrugated metal roof over the generating room. That portion of the roof was removable for access to the turbine-generator units. A flat concrete roof is above the transformer room in the southwest corner of the structure, and a sloping tar roof covers the storeroom and shop in the southeast corner.

"The largest space in the powerhouse is the generator room, in which housed the two Pelton 1600 kW turbine-generator units. Mounted horizontally, the units are aligned parallel to the river. Below the floor, tapered draft tubes provide outlets for water passing through the turbines back to the river, via an arched recess under the building. Two smaller exciter generators are attached to the turbine shafts. Units functioning as governors operated wicket gates at the upstream ends of the turbines. Mounted on an I-beam above one of the turbine-generators is a movable crane, consisting of metal plates suspended from wheels, running on the inner ridges of the beam. Tall, metal-hinged windows light and ventilate the room, which is 41 feet in height.

"A metal walkway and stairs connect the generating room with the switchboard room immediately to the south. Raised about five feet above the floor of the generating room, the smaller room contained an electrical switch gear. As of 1990, only metal racks remain, along with 37 metal pipes, some containing conductor cables that protrude from the floor near the north end of the room. Wooden 2x4 studs mark what was the partition separating the switchboard room from the storeroom and shop to the south.

"Accessed either from the generating room or by a wide, sliding metal door on the powerhouse’s west façade is the transformer room. Large free-standing electrical transformers were once installed in the room, which now contains only wooden and metal equipment and bus racks, and three small Westinghouse type S single phase 10 kV transformers mounted on the west wall. Because of the explosive potential of transformers, the room was stoutly constructed, capped by a concrete ceiling. The sliding metal door, which now lays on the concrete floor (1990), is of extremely heavy construction. Outside the transformer room and shop, a concrete deck extends into the rock cliff south of the powerhouse. The deck once served as an outdoor switchyard in which electrical transmission equipment was installed. Some of the equipment, which has since been removed, was mounted on large concrete pads still standing on the deck (1990)".

Beyond Enloe Dam

The Okanogan Public Utility District No. 1 (PUD) applied for licenses to restore hydropower generation at Enloe Dam in 1981, 1991, and again in 2008, but "each effort was abandoned due to high costs, environmental and legal challenges, and uncertain power markets" ("The Story of Enloe Dam"). The 2008 proposal called for a new hydropower complex to be situated on the east bank of the Similkameen, just northeast of the original powerhouse. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) application called for a new site "nearer to the dam, [offering] environmental and constructability advantages. The proposed 9.0 MW facility has a footprint that is about half the size of the existing facilities while providing nearly three times the generating capacity of the existing decommissioned plant and about twice the annual energy output" (PUD, 2008).

In November 2018, following years of litigation, the PUD "unanimously passed a motion to no longer pursue electrification of Enloe Dam. This decision was based on the complexity, controversy, risk, and considerable cost involved in restoring power generation" ("The Story of Enloe Dam").

Jurisdiction of the facility then fell to the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Dam Safety Division, which meant that the dam face would have to be dewatered for a comprehensive inspection to take place. To do this, the river would have to be diverted around the crest of the dam to dewater the face and allow for a complete visual inspection. The PUD conducted an alternatives analysis and settled on the option that "requires the intake gates and penstocks to be replaced and maintenance access to be provided to the structure" ("The Story of Enloe Dam").

The task of removing a 240-foot section of the lone remaining stave penstock began in spring 2021. It was thought that the penstock could be raised in 16-foot sections, basically using a chainsaw to cut the sections above the concrete saddle supports. While this procedure was underway, the penstock structure collapsed in attempts to be hoisted, hence lifting individual sections by crane was out of the question. Instead, the tops of the penstock sections were cut away and a small excavator was brought in to scrape out both the collapsed lumber and any sediment. This procedure was repeated until the project was completed in August 2022. A comprehensive dam-safety inspection, which included a visual inspection of the face, toe, and abutments, was conducted in September 2022.

Meanwhile, a push to remove Enloe Dam entirely was gaining momentum. How to pay for it was the great unknown. In 2020, representatives of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation told The Seattle Times that removing the dam would have enormous benefits. "Taking down Enloe Dam is crucial for rebuilding steelhead, lamprey and chinook salmon in this river, said Cody Desautel, natural resources director for the tribes. The question isn’t whether this dam in their traditional territory should come down. But how, and at what cost, and who pays? 'This is a mathematic and engineering question, and a question of where the sediment [behind the dam] goes,' Desautel said. 'But the question of whether to remove it or not, that is a no-brainer'" ("A Dam Blocking 348 Miles ...").

In June 2022, a lawyer with the Water and Power Law Group PC presented the PUD board with a memorandum describing a feasible pathway to pursue the removal of Enloe Dam, analyzing potential liabilities arising from dam removal, along with strategies to avoid and manage such liabilities. In July 2022, the board passed a resolution supporting a process to evaluate the potential Enloe Dam removal, as outlined in the memo. 


Jeri Timm, "The Story of Enloe Dam," Northwest Public Power Association Magazine (NWPPA), August 2021, pp. 34-37; Craig Holstine and John Eminger, "Historic American Engineering Record (HAER): Enloe Dam and Powerhouse," HAER No. WA-6, Archaeological and Historical Services, EWU, Cheney, Washington, 1990; C. F. Uden, “System of Washington Water Company," Journal of Electricity, San Francisco, 1914; Rod Vissia, "Enloe Dam and Powerhouse National Register of Historic Places Nomination," 1978; "A Resolution Initiating the Solicitation of Interested Parties to Assume Ownership of the Enloe Dam Powerhouse," resolution No. 1616, FERC Project License No. 12569-001, 2016; "An Important Improvement," Oroville Weekly Gazette, April 25, 1919, p. 1; "Returned to Republic," Ibid., October 14, 1910, p. 1; "An Important Transfer," Ibid., April 14, 1916, p. 1; "Oroville the Power City," Ibid., July 1, 1910, p. 1"Power Plant For Sale," Ibid., March 14, 1913, p. 1"Power Plant Sold," Ibid., June 6, 1916, p. 1; "Prospective Purchasers," Ibid., April 25, 1913, p. 3"Considerations for Acquiring, Owning, and Managing the Existing Enloe Powerhouse," Enloe Dam Hydroelectric Project, FERC Project No. 12569, 2016Kimberly V. Demuth, "Final Historic Properties Management Plan: Enloe Dam Project Licensing, FERC Project No. 12569," Cardno Entrix, 2014, Seattle; Dixie LeMay, "The Similkameen Rock Wall," unpublished manuscript, 1979; "Enloe Dam History," Okanogan County Heritage, Okanogan Historical Society, Winter 2007 Vol. 46, No. 1; Ann C. Briley, "Enloe Dam, One Small Chapter in Big Success Story,” Wenatchee World, October 2, 1983 p. 14; Marcel Reed interview with Larry Felton, February 5, 1988; "Returned to Republic," Oroville Weekly Register, National Park Service, 1974; Wilbur Hallauer, personal papers, Olympia, 1979; Charles C. Kerr, "Families Leaving Gorge," Omak Chronicle, July 2, 1959, p. 1, accessed from Okanogan County Heritage Magazine, 1979; "Exhibit A Project Description,” Final Licensing Application, FERC Project No. 12569, Okanogan County Public Utility District No. 1. (OKPUD), 2008; "Hagerty Boasts Ride on Rails," Spokesman-Review, November 10, 1903, p. 8; Charles C. Kerr, "Old Power Dam Will Be Retired," Ibid., July 15, 1959, p. 2; Okanogan Independent, April 20, 1920, p. 1; Randy Bouchard, et al, "Indian History and Knowledge of the Lower Similkameen River-Palmer Lake Area," Victoria, British Columbia Indian Language Project, 1984.


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