March 21, 2022 ---The future of Lake Almanor’s cold water fishery is in jeopardy!
In October of 2002 Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) filed its application with the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) to relicense the Upper North Fork Feather Hydroelectric Project (Project) as the current license expired on October 31 of 2004. PG&E operates under an annual license currently.
Most of the significant relicensing milestones were achieved years ago and the majority of the parties to the licensing agreement entered into a Settlement Agreement on April 22nd of 2004. The parties resolved “all lake level and streamflow issues for ecological purposes, river-based recreational uses, and other resolved subjects in support of [the U.S. Forest Service] issuing its recommended conditions,” BUT left water temperature issues unresolved. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) staff completed its environmental analysis for the relicensing under the National Environmental Policy Act with a Final Environmental Impact Statement issued in November 2005. In addition, the federal fishery agencies completed their consultation under the Endangered Species Act with biological opinions issued in January 2005. The major source of delay of a new Project license has been the State of California’s Water Quality Certification (“WQC”) under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”).
PG&E filed its initial application for a WQC with the SWRCB on October 9, 2002. For the next 17 years, the SWRCB indicated that it lacked sufficient information to act and suggested that PG&E withdraw and resubmit its WQC application to avoid denial. In March of 2019 PG&E once again refiled the WQC application, which the SWRCB again denied in March 2020. Instead of reapplying, on April 24, 2020, PG&E filed a petition with the Commission for an order declaring that the SWRCB waived its authority to issue a WQC for the relicensing under Section 401. On July 16, 2020, the Commission issued a declaratory order ruling that the SWRCB had waived its Section 401 authority for the Project. SWRCB did not challenge the Commission’s order before the court of appeals, and it is now final.
Notwithstanding PG&E’s pending petition for declaratory order before FERC, on May 19, 2020, with no application before it, the SWRCB issued a draft WQC for the Project and filed it with FERC. On July 15, 2020, despite PG&E’s filings objecting to the conditions proposed in the draft WQC, the SWRCB issued a final WQC for the relicensing and filed it with FERC. Condition 1(B) of the SWRCB’s WQC includes a condition requiring minimum instream flows below Canyon Dam that are higher than those required under the Settlement Agreement. In addition, Condition 6 requires PG&E to release supplemental flows of up to 250 cubic feet per second (“cfs”) from Lake Almanor through Canyon Dam from June 16 to September 15, purportedly to reduce water temperatures in the North Fork Feather River to protect cold freshwater habitat for fish. Should the Deputy Director of the SWRCB determine at any time during the new license term (expected to be 40 to 50 years) that the supplemental flows are insufficient, the WQC provides that SWRCB can direct PG&E to provide additional supplemental flows, install thermal curtains at the Prattville and Caribou intakes, or require other temperature control measures.
The Commission has indicated that where a state waives its Section 401 authority, FERC may still consider any water quality conditions proposed by the state as recommendations for inclusion in the new license. PG&E argued to FERC that the SWRCB has not shown how the flow releases required by Condition 6 are necessary to comply with state water quality standards and that the condition fails to reasonably protect beneficial uses in Lake Almanor.
In summary, for the past 19 years the SWRCB failed to relicense PG&E to operate the Upper North Fork Feather Hydroelectric Project. In 2020 PG&E filed a petition that stated SWRCB waived its authority to issue a WQC, the SWRCB did not challenge the petition. The relicensing of the Upper North Fork Feather Hydroelectric Project is now on FERC’s desk for approval. While the SWRCB has failed to relicense PG&E’s application for the past 19 years and waived its authority to issue a Water Quality Certification they are requesting FERC impose Condition 1(B) requiring higher minimal instream flows below Canyon Dam that are greater than the Settlement Agreement. The SWRCB is also requesting FERC impose Condition 6 which requires PG&E to release supplemental flows of up to 250 cubic feet per second through Canyon Dam from June 16th through September 15th. Lastly the SWRCB wants to keep thermal curtains on the table at the Prattville and Caribou intakes.
It will be years before we realize the true impacts of the Dixie Fire to our lake and fishery. We have witnessed unprecedented algal blooms the past two years as a result of low water and warming water temps on Almanor. Lake Almanor is a shallow water lake, the deepest spot on the lake is approximately 100’ in a very small area, the average depth of the lake ranges between 40 and 50 feet. If FERC adopts the condition’s recommended by the SWRCB our cold-water fishery will be decimated, we will be forced to abandon our fish pen program, Lake Almanor’s entire ecosystem will be in jeopardy. The impacts to the Lake Almanor Community, tourism and our way of life here in Plumas rests on FERC’s desk and the recommendations of the SWRCB.
The Lake Almanor Community has banded together, we are currently working with Rock Creek Energy Group, to file a Motion to Intervene Out-Of-Time with FERC and we are prepared to pursue legal action if FERC adopts the SWRCB’s recommendations.
If you would like to assist the Lake Almanor Community in our efforts to save our cold-water fishery and protect our resources, we encourage you to write a letter to FERC expressing your concerns. All letters should be addressed to.
Kimberly D. Bose,Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20426
Community Action- Example Letters:
For Sample Letter and Continued Information please visit Lake Almanor Chamber (Click on image)
Click on image below to read letter, Protect Lake Almaor.