CSPA, nine other conservation and fishing groups, and four whitewater outfitters (“Conservation Groups”) jointly submitted 75 pages of comments on April 12, 2019 on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the relicensing of the Don Pedro Hydroelectric Project and the first-time licensing of the La Grange Hydroelectric Project. Together, the projects have buried over twenty miles of the Tuolumne River under Don Pedro and La Grange reservoirs. Today, these reservoirs separate the upper and lower Tuolumne.
The two hydroelectric projects are undergoing licensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The Don Pedro relicensing began in 2011. It was delayed for about two years while the National Marine Fisheries Service, CSPA and others pleaded successfully that the La Grange Powerhouse, operating with no federal license since the 1920’s, required licensing by FERC. The DEIS covers both licensing proceedings.
FERC staff released the DEIS in February 2019. The DEIS recommends that the new licenses adopt the flow regimes supported by the license holders, Turlock Irrigation District and Modesto Irrigation District (Districts). The same skimpy flows are supported by the City and County of San Francisco (the most progressive city in the world!), and by the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation District, which wholesales water to other Bay Area water agencies.
The DEIS recommends adoption of the Districts’ proposed flows for the lower Tuolumne River, which are a hair better than existing. The Districts proposed combining their flows with killing bass in the river and cleaning river gravel with a power washer. They argued this would protect and support as many salmon as increasing river flows and the access of salmon to floodplain habitat. FERC staff said it was “unknown” if killing bass would help, and staff did not recommend “gravel cleaning.” However, staff accepted the results of the Districts’ “model” whose positive results were based on these activities.
FERC staff also concluded that it did not need to analyze options for maintaining existing water supply uses with less water. So FERC staff took replacement of flood irrigation with managed groundwater recharge, and similar strategies, off the table. Since staff thus concluded that its recommended solutions could not include reducing water supply demand, it decided not to recommend any flows that would require that.
As a clincher, the DEIS copied the Districts’ language verbatim in discussing the reintroduction of salmon to the Tuolumne River upstream of the reservoirs.
Conservation Groups’ DEIS comments find the DEIS inadequate on many grounds, from basic factual omissions to legal inadequacy under the National Environmental Policy Act, the Federal Power Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act.
CSPA is grateful to attorneys from Morrison & Foerster LLP and their client, the Tuolumne River Trust, for their assistance in drafting these comments.