Dam Relicensing and Salmon Restoration Not Yet Aligned
Last week, the Yuba County Water Agency (YCWA) submitted their Final License Application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for their hydropower project on the Yuba River, for which the current license expires in 2016. The application includes many measures for improved stream flow below dams, and other project mitigations or enhancements such as plans for improved monitoring and recreation. The final license application was mostly unchanged in comparison to a draft license application submitted in December, despite extensive comments from SYRCL and the Foothills Water Network, and five federal or state resource agencies. The conservation community contends that the application does not go far enough to mitigate for the impacts of the project and help to restore salmon.
YCWA’s hydropower project includes dams or diversions on the North Yuba River, the Middle Yuba River, Oregon Creek and the Lower Yuba River. YCWA claims that Englebright Dam, owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, is not part of their project even though YCWA’s Narrows 2 hydropower facility is the principal outlet from water stored behind Englebright Dam to the lower Yuba River. Additionally, Englebright Reservoir serves as the necessary afterbay to YCWA’s Colgate Powerhouse, allowing for downstream flows to be more regular than the daily fluctuations of 3600 cfs seen at Colgate Powerhouse and related to California’s minute by minute system of electrical supply demand. For a map of hydropower dams and diversions in the Yuba River watershed, and other information on this topic, see the Yuba River Dam Licensing page.
YCWA has attempted to keep the need for salmon reintroduction to the upper Yuba watershed outside the process of relicensing their hydropower project, instead focusing on salmon habitat in the lower Yuba River and a voluntary process called the Yuba Salmon Forum. Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers is not actively participating in either the relicensing process or the Yuba Salmon Forum, instead hoping that the tenuous position represented by the last consultation under the Endangered Species Act (see news on latest NMFS Biological Opinion) will leave them without any responsibility for improved fish passage.
Certain resource agencies have powerful authorities to add more protection and restoration measures to the final license approved by FERC. For example, the U. S. Forest Service can mandate license terms that effect condition on streams flowing through the Forest Service’s land, and the State Water Resources Control Board has the authority to require changes to a license before providing necessary certification under the Clean Water Act. The State Water Resources Control Board has submitted to FERC that all the new information available from the Yuba Salmon Forum should be part of the relicensing process, and that the state will not certify a new license that does not result from consideration of salmon reintroduction into the upper watershed. The next steps in the relicensing process are for agencies to submit their recommendations or requirements, and then for FERC to issue a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
The relicensing process has been delayed by several studies which are not yet complete, including two studies focused on how salmon in the Yuba River interact with operations of the Narrows 2 facility below Englebright Dam. FERC will issue the Draft EIS in 2015, and a Final EIS approximately one year later. YCWA will receive annual extensions of their current license until a new license is finally ready, approved and certified by the State Water Resources Control Board.
This is a long process. SYRCL and our coalition of conservation interests will continue to advocate for a new license that adequately protects and restores the river, including provisions to restore salmon to the upper Yuba River watershed. Please join the Yuba Salmon Now Campaign.