FERC staff recommends against Bear River dam

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Staff of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission have recommended against licensing a dam, reservoir, and hydropower project proposed for the Bear River near Preston, Idaho.

The case involves a 2013 application by Twin Lakes Canal Company to the FERC for a license to construct, operate, and maintain the Bear River Narrows Project.  The project would be located on the main stem of the Bear River in Franklin County, Idaho, about 9 miles northeast of the city of Preston. It would feature a 109-foot-high dam impounding a 362-acre reservoir, and a powerhouse with an installed capacity of 10 megawatts and estimated average annual generation of of 48,531 megawatt-hours of electricity.  The reservoir would also be used to provide up to 5,000 acre-feet of water to Twin Lakes’ irrigation system during dry years.

Under the Federal Power Act, the FERC is charged with processing licenses for most hydropower projects in the U.S.  Federal law guides the FERC in this duty.  Sections 4(e) and 10(a)(1) of that act require the Commission to give equal consideration to the power development purposes and to the purposes of energy conservation; the protection of, mitigation of damage to, and enhancement of fish and wildlife; the protection of recreational opportunities; and the preservation of other aspects of environmental quality.  The Commission can only issue licenses that in its judgment are best adapted to a comprehensive plan for improving or developing a waterway or waterways for all beneficial public uses.  Additionally, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 requires the agency to analyze and document the environmental effects of proposed federal actions such as granting Twin Lakes' application.

Commission staff released its final environmental impact statement on Twin Lakes' license application on April 27, 2016.  That document, called an EIS, analyzes the effects of proposed project construction and operation, and recommends conditions for any license that may be issued for the project.

In the Bear River Narrows Project EIS, FERC staff considered Twin Lakes’ proposal for licensing, as well as three alternatives: (1) no-action (i.e. not licensing the project, so it can't be constructed); (2) the applicant’s proposal with staff modifications (staff licensing alternative); and (3) the staff licensing alternative with an additional condition requested by the Bureau of Land Management.

The EIS notes the existence of four Commission-licensed hydroelectric facilities located on the Bear River in Idaho with a combined installed capacity of more than 78 MW, including the Oneida development directly upstream.  It also notes uses of the "Oneida Narrows" section of the Bear River that would be flooded by the Bear River Narrows Project impoundment, including a recreational trout fishery and boating opportunities, and habitat for sensitive wildlife species.

Based on a review of the anticipated environmental and economic effects of the proposed project and its alternatives, as well as the agency and public comments filed on this project, staff recommends no action (license denial) as the preferred alternative.  In staff's words, "The overall, unavoidable adverse environmental effects of both action alternatives would outweigh the power and water storage benefits of the project."

For these reasons, FERC staff concluded that "any license issued for the proposed project could not be best adapted to a comprehensive plan for improving or developing the Bear River for all of its beneficial public uses, especially its substantial public recreation use at the proposed project site. We, therefore, recommend license denial."

Twin Lakes Canal Company's application to the Commission for a license to construct the project remains pending.

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