The State Water Resources Control Board has rebuffed an request by Merced Irrigation District to delay study of the impacts of its operations on the Merced River. The Board denied a stay of the implementation of Water Rights “Investigation” Order 2011-03-EXEC, which requires Merced ID to perform a suite of studies to inform the Clean Water Act water quality certification for the relicensing of its Merced River Hydroelectric Project. The Board ordered the studies because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will issue the license, failed to order studies sufficient to meet the needs of the State Board.
Seven conservation groups, including CSPA, submitted written comments opposing a stay, as did the Department of Fish and Game and the National Marine Fisheries Service. CSPA and Friends of the River, along with DFG, provided oral comments.
The original Investigation Order was unusual, motivated by an unusually determined effort by Merced ID to avoid study in its ongoing relicensing proceeding before FERC. FERC’s acquiescence to Merced ID’s strategy, opposed on specific and on policy levels by a host of resource agencies and conservation groups, provided strong motivation for the State Board to break the procedural gridlock by ordering studies immediately. In other proceedings, the Board has waited for the FERC process to finish before ordering additional study; however, in other processes, FERC has almost always provided the Board with a much greater contribution of information to work with.
Merced ID has opposed WRO 2011-03-EXEC on legal grounds. The allied conservation groups have vigorously supported the Board’s authority under the federal Clean Water Act and under state law. The Board did not address Merced’s legal arguments on April 19, but will do so within a year.