Foothills Water Network

Hydropower Relicensing

What is FERC Relicensing?

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regulates non-federal dams through FERC licenses. The licenses are like rental agreements with the American public for using our rivers to generate hydropower. Many hydropower dams were constructed 50 or more years ago before the advent of modern environmental law, policy or ethic. Consequently, many licenses lack adequate protections for the rivers, fisheries, and reacreation. In short, many hydropower dams take a lot of water out of the river, which degrades fish, frog, and wildlife populations, reduces many recreational opportunities, and generally makes the river unhealthy. FERC relicensing presents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to modernize dams and project operations to put more water back in the rivers, improve water quality, and get salmon back up to the parts of the rivers above the dams. Through relicensing, we can also increase opportunities for fishing, whitewater boating, swimming, and wading.

Relicensing on the Yuba, Bear, and American

The dams on the Yuba, Bear, and Middle Fork American were licensed almost 50 years ago. The Foothills Water Network (Network) seeks to negotiate enforceable requirements for 48 hydropower dams to put more water back in the Yuba, Bear, and American watersheds. Returning water to these rivers will improve water quality, fisheries, and recreation opportunities.

Yuba-Bear — Nevada Irrigation District

License expires 2013 - FERC Docket #2266 For the relicensing event calendar, studies, and filings, see NID's Yuba-Bear Project Relicensing Website.

The Yuba-Bear Hydroelectric Project was completed in 1966 by the Nevada Irrigation District (NID). It includes eight reservoirs, twelve dams or diversions, four hydro-electric power plants and many miles of canals, tunnels, flumes, power transmission lines, roads and other facilities which stretch across a 400 square-mile-area in Sierra, Nevada and Placer counties. In an average year the project generates 425 million kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric energy which is enough to power more than 60,000 households. Output in higher precipitation years can be as much as 511 million kilowatt-hours. In drought years, like 1977, the project only generated 46 million kilowatt-hours. The project includes several well-used recreation areas such as Bowman, Spaulding and Rollins reservoirs.

The project is managed under a contract with PG&E which purchases the power output. Power revenues are used to operate and maintain water systems and to repay the revenue bonds that financed the original development of the project. The contract with PG&E and the bond repayment schedule extend through the year 2013 when the current FERC license for the project expires. Much of the water stored behind the dams in the Yuba-Bear Hydroelectric project is diverted through a complex system of flumes, ditches and tunnels to the Bear and American Rivers for consumption by downstream users.

All the current contracts (for instance NID’s contracts with PG&E) will be up for renegotiation when the licenses become due and ownership of the facilities could change. PG&E and NID will negotiate new contracts in anticipation of the current license and contracts expiring.

Drum-Spaulding — Pacific Gas and Electric

License expires 2013 - FERC Docket #2310
Yuba-Bear Documents and Data

For the relicensing event calendar, studies, and filings, see NID's Yuba-Bear Project Relicensing Website.

The Yuba-Bear and Drum-Spaulding Projects hold joint meetings because the hydropower projects are so interlinked and being relicensed simultaneously. The NID relicensing website is used for the most updated coordinated schedule and filings.

The Drum-Spaulding project was P&E’s second ever hydro–electric project. It was started in 1912 and included the largest concrete arch-style dam ever constructed up to that time, reaching 275 feet when it was completed in 1919. The Drum-Spaulding Project now includes facilities on the South Yuba River, Bear River and North Fork of the American River and is currently run by PG&E. It includes 12 powerhouses, 30 reservoirs, 31 dams or diversions, and 80 miles of flumes, tunnels and canals. The system has a capacity of more than 190 megawatts, generating 786 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year, enough electricity for more than 130,000 northern and central California homes. PG&E's Drum-Spaulding system shares both storage and conveyance facilities with Nevada Irrigation District (NID). In addition PG&E and NID both have power generating plants and have developed water supply and power purchase agreements within this system.

Middle Fork American Project — Placer County Water Agency

License expires 2013 - FERC Docket #2079
Middle Fork American Documents and Data

For the relicensing event calendar, studies, and filings, see PCWA's relicensing website..

The Placer County Water Agency (PCWA) owns the Middle Fork American River Hydroelectric Project (MFP or Project), located on the Middle Fork American River, the Rubicon River, and several tributaries in Placer and El Dorado Counties, California. The MFP is a multipurpose project that was designed to supply water for recreation, irrigation, domestic and commercial purposes, and to generate hydroelectric power. The principle Project features include two primary storage reservoirs - French Meadows and Hell Hole; two limited storage afterbays - Interbay and Ralston - and three small diversions - Duncan Creek Diversion, North Fork Long Canyon Diversion and South Fork Long Canyon Diversion. PCWA's Relicensing process got underway in spring 2006 with stakeholder meetings open to the public and a field trip to Oxbow and Ralston Reservoirs, both part of the Middle Fork American Hydropower Project.

Yuba River Development Project — Yuba County Water Agency

License expires 2016 - FERC Docket #2246
Yuba River Development Project Documents and Data

For the relicensing event calendar, studies, and filings, see Yuba River Development Project's relicensing website.

New Bullards Bar Dam on the North Yuba was completed in 1969. Almost a million acre feet of water from the North and Middle Yuba Rivers and Oregon Creek are stored behind the 64-story high, 2,323 foot long dam which is located at the south end of the 16 mile long New Bullards Bar reservoir. The dam is managed by the Yuba County Water Agency for water storage, flood control and recreation and also influences downstream river temperatures for the Yuba’s threatened salmon and steelhead fishery. The dam also feeds water into the New Colgate Powerhouse which produces 315 megawatts of electricity which is enough power for 275,000 households. Much of the water stored behind New Bullards Bar Dam is exported to downstream state and federal water users and farmers.

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