Virtually everyone agrees that PG&E’s DeSabla – Centerville Hydroelectric Project on Butte Creek and the West Branch Feather River provides important benefits to salmon. Fortunately, the ten-year-long relicensing of this project is close to completion.
In the most recent process milestone, the State Water Board issued the Water Quality Certification for the relicensing in April. Staff from the State Water Board used the Certification to require suitable water temperatures for spring-run Chinook salmon holding in Butte Creek during the summer. Combined with the run down condition of the low-power Centerville Powerhouse and the expense of rebuilding it, the Certification helped PG&E to decide to decommission Centerville Powerhouse and the Lower Centerville Canal. Decommissioning will take place through a license amendment once the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues a new project license.
Less fortunately, in spite of an outcome largely agreed to by everyone, PG&E challenged many aspects of the Certification in a May 11, 2015 “Petition for Reconsideration.” Though less than a week later PG&E was complaining to a committee of Congress of delays in relicensing this specific project, PG&E’s Petition challenged the legal basis for the State to reserve its authority in a Water Quality Certification. Reserving authority is a common sense provision that would allow a change in the Certification if conditions like climate change alter the impacts of the project. PG&E’s broad legal challenge means that important improvements, like a device to reduce the heating of water in a project reservoir, could be delayed even further.
On November 9, CSPA, Friends of Butte Creek, American Whitewater, and Friends of the River commented on PG&E’s Petition for Reconsideration, largely in opposition. We urge the Board to issue an order forthwith adopting a few of PG&E’s requests while denying most of them and retaining the bulk of the Certification.