Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Merced Dam Relicensings

I am representing GWWF and the NCCFFF in this matter in which two dams (New Exchequer/McSwain) operated by the Merced Irrigation are undergoing relicensing for a new FERC license which would be renewed for another 30-50 years. We are in year two of the five year process and it is has been a contentious situation in which the Irrigation District really tried to limit the geographic scope of their impact of their hydro projects—essentially arguing that their dams do not affect condition downstream of their dams! In addition, they have resisted nearly all the studies requested related to the fishery which includes Fall run Chinook Salmon and ESA listed Central Valley Steelhead. Finally, they are pushing to remove the Wild and Scenic Designation of the Merced River in order to be able to increase the size of their reservoir (which has never spilled over the dam), which would flood a significant portion of the Merced River, including two campgrounds within this important recreational area. The Wild and Scenic Designation is used to protect rivers from just this sort of thing. A bill was introduced into Congress and is winding through the committee process. Earlier this year, the California State Water Board ordered the Irrigation District to do a whole slew of studies since the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) decided not to require many studies which are necessary to figure out the conditions for fish and what needs to be adjusted as a condition for the new license. This action by the State Water Board was a first and they are the ones who issue a 401 certificate which is necessary for the new license. This was a big win for the fish. FERC did order two more studies: Instream flows and Chinook Salmon Egg Viability. For more information on the status of the HR bill 869 which seeks to remove the Wild & Scenic Status go to the Friends of the River website which also has updates on the Merced relicensing at: http://www.friendsoftheriver.org/site/PageServer?pagename=merced.

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