On Tuesday, August 2, 2016, the State Water Resources Control Board took an important action to protect the spring-run Chinook salmon in Butte Creek. Butte Creek contains the only run of spring-run Chinook in the Central Valley that is considered “viable.” CSPA has been working to protect this keystone run of fish since 2003 and before.
In acting on August 2, the State Board adopted a final Water Quality Certification for the relicensing of PG&E’s DeSabla – Centerville Hydroelectric Project. The final Certification was issued over objections made by PG&E a year ago in a “Petition for Reconsideration” of an earlier version of the Certification. The State Board adopted only a few of PG&E’s objections.
The DeSabla – Centerville Project brings water from the West Branch Feather River over to Butte Creek, providing additional cool water to support Butte Creek’s salmon. Historically, the project also diverted water out of the salmon-holding reach Butte Creek, leaving too little water in the creek during the summer to safely support the salmon. With the Certification, the West Branch water will continue to flow to Butte Creek, but the diversion of water out of the salmon-holding reach of Butte Creek will be discontinued.
After many years of advocacy by CSPA and Friends of Butte Creek, steadfast action by staff from the State Board, and recognition that rebuilding a non-functional 100-year old powerhouse isn’t worth the money, PG&E has announced its intention to decommission the portion of the project that depends on diverting water away from the salmon. Decommissioning will begin as soon as the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues a new license for the project. The final prerequisite to license issuance by FERC is a Biological Opinion from the National Marine Fisheries Service.
In 2008 and 2009, CSPA made the case to FERC and the resource agencies for keeping as much cool water as possible in the salmon-holding reach of Butte Creek. While FERC ignored our arguments, the State Board took them to heart and even cites them in its Water Quality Certification. By law, FERC must include the Certification in the new hydropower license for the project.
This is a major, long-awaited victory for CSPA, which was the Conservation Group lead for relicensing this hydroelectric project. It is an even greater victory for the spring-run Chinook salmon in Butte Creek.
Link to State Board website where final Certification will be posted: http://www.swrcb.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/ water_quality_cert/desabla_ferc803.shtml