FERC Rim Dam Trifecta

Operators of hydroelectric projects licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have filed Draft License Applications for hydroelectric projects on two major Central Valley rim dams.  A FERC notice requiring recommendations, terms and conditions for a third such project is imminent. Each of the projects is centered on a major storage reservoir whose streamflow releases directly affect inflow to the Bay-Delta estuary.

The projects are the Yuba River Development Project (Yuba County Water Agency); Don Pedro Project (Turlock Irrigation District and Modesto Irrigation District); and the Merced River Project (Merced Irrigation District).  The reservoirs are New Bullards Bar Reservoir (in conjunction with Englebright Reservoir) on the Yuba; Don Pedro Reservoir on the Tuolumne; and New Exchequer Reservoir (also known as Lake McClure) on the Merced.

CSPA is a major participant in each relicensing process. Recent news articles stated that the licensees on two of these projects have spent over $20 million per project relicensing. Each process takes at least five years. Comments at this stage of each process are due in two to three months. Each license application is thousands of pages long.

CSPA’s interests in these relicensings go to two major policy issues: reintroducing salmon upstream of Central Valley rim dams, and contribution of major Central Valley tributaries to Delta inflow and outflow.  None of the licensees in these three processes wants to see these issues addressed in relicensing, though in fairness it is worth noting that Yuba County Water Agency has supported a stakeholder process called the Yuba Salmon Forum to evaluate reintroduction of salmon and/or steelhead to the upper Yuba River watershed.  FERC has enabled limiting the scope of relicensing to the tributaries downstream of the projects. CSPA advocates expansion of the scope upstream to consider fish passage and downstream to consider Delta inflow and outflow, and is working in parallel processes at the State Water Board to assure that these broader issues don’t get lost in a game of jurisdictional keep-away.

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