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ONE TO WATCH: BEAVERHEAD RIVER HYDROELECTRIC DAM THREAT

April 28, 2016

KEEPING CONSERVATION TOP-OF-MIND

Our friends at Bozeman-based Upper Missouri Waterkeeper have been carefully watching a project that could potentially threaten one of Montana’s finest fisheries, the Beaverhead. Here’s a recent report from the Waterkeeper team: 

“For years there’s been a proposal to turn Clark Canyon Dam, the headwaters of the Beaverhead, into a hydroelectric facility.  This February 2016 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) solicited public comment on the Clark Canyon Dam Hydroelectric proposal, representing what may well have been the public’s only opportunity to provide comments to federal decision makers.  For the last several months Upper Missouri Waterkeeper worked with local stakeholders and citizens to educate folks on the importance of commenting to decision makers to ensure any new hydroelectric project not only protects downstream fisheries, but also considers emerging water quality problems related to the operation of Clark Canyon Dam.

As many folks know, for two consecutive summers the upper Beaverhead River experienced unnatural, severe algal blooms and turbidity events related to, among many things, operation of Clark Canyon Reservoir and long-term sediment and nutrient loading behind the Dam.  Although the proposed hydroelectric project will require use of the Dam, there’s been little to no discussion of recent years’ unnatural dam-related pollution events and what steps need to be taken to protect the downstream Beaverhead. Click here to learn more about recent pollution events.

Because the proposed hydroelectric project involves use of the existing dam and reservoir, the licensing agency – FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) – has an obligation to consider relevant, local pollution events and, in turn, to use sound science in saying whether the proposed hydroelectric facility will/will not/might contribute to or worsen known water quality and fisheries problems. Likewise, we have an obligation as Montana citizens to provide a strong showing of public interest in a healthy Beaverhead.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper submitted comments to FERC requesting a final license incorporating terms and conditions that:
(1) ensure downstream water quality standards are met;
(2) require the hydro company to support ongoing scientific monitoring concerning dam-related turbidity and nutrient pollution events;
(3) ensure the hydro company’s participation in an adaptive management plan based on the findings of ongoing turbidity and nutrient pollution studies; and
(4) contemplate alternative flow/release volumes and timing in a manner balancing the legal framework of senior water rights, contractual water delivery obligations of the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), and downstream water quality standards.

Nearly 200 folks who care about the Beaverhead joined us in asking FERC to (1) incorporate new, best available science from Montana’s resource agencies in its environmental reviews and (2) require an additional, narrowly focused study examining these water quality challenges and the Project’s potential to contribute to or exacerbate recent pollution events. Click here to read the petition and view signatures.

Now that the official 30-day comment period has passed, FERC has the job of reading all public comment and performing in-house environmental analyses of the proposal and its reasonably foreseeable direct, indirect, and cumulative impacts.”

Click here to learn more about the proposal and download the fact sheet.



 

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