FERC draft EIS rejects 10-MW Bear River Narrows hydro project

A draft environmental impact statement by Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff has rejected a license to construct the 10-MW Bear River Narrows hydroelectric project on the Bear River in Idaho.

Twin Lakes Canal Co. filed an application in 2013 for an original license for the project (No. 12486), to be built near Preston in Franklin County, Idaho. The project would include construction of a 104-foot-tall dam at Bear River’s Oneida Narrows and a powerhouse built below the dam. A major component involves replacement of outdated and inefficient canals and siphons with an underground water conveyance system. Currently, the irrigation system loses nearly half of its water supply to evaporation and seepage.

The draft EIS, issued Sept. 30, outlines the benefits of the hydropower project but declares the unavoidable adverse environmental effects would outweigh the power and water storage benefits.

“Twin Lakes’ proposal … would allow Twin Lakes to meet its revenue goals for funding improvements to its irrigation system, provide up to 5,000 acre-feet of supplemental water to meet irrigation demands during dry years, and also help meet a need for power in the project area in both the short and long term as additional coal-fired facilities are retired,” FERC staff wrote. “The proposed project would also provide low-cost power that displaces generation from non-renewable sources.”

“However, based on our independent review of agency and public comments filed on this project and our review of the environmental and economic effects of the proposed project and its alternatives, we select the no-action alternative as the preferred alternative,” the document said. “The overall public benefits of the no-action alternative would exceed those of Twin Lakes’ proposal, because of the unavoidable adverse environmental effects.”

The EIS said adverse effects would include: loss of a 4.5-mile section of the Bear River with “outstandingly remarkable” recreational values; substantial reduction of the cutthroat trout fishery and the diversity of up to 48 state-designated sensitive wildlife species; permanent loss of 249 acres of PacifiCorp-owned conservation land and 55 acres of designated Research Natural Area/Area of Critical Environmental Concern land; and degradation of aesthetics by the conversion of the scenic Oneida Narrows into a hydroelectric project with a large dam, powerhouse, transmission facilities and roads.

If the commission should decide to license the project despite the EIS, the document recommended measures to help mitigate the adverse environmental effects. The EIS noted that if the project were licensed with staff recommendations and resource agency mandatory conditions, the project would generate power at $66.50 per MWh, or $21.67/MWh less than the cost of alternative power.

Environmentalist group Idaho Rivers United hailed the no-action recommendation.

“Since 2002, IRU and our allies have fought to protect a unique resource that’s prized for its recreational values,” IRU Conservation Director Kevin Lewis said. “To date millions of dollars have been spent restoring portions of the Bear River, and this dam would have destroyed one of the river’s last free-flowing stretches.”

Comments on the draft EIS are due to FERC by Nov. 30. The document may be obtained from the FERC Internet site under www.ferc.gov/industries/hydropower/enviro/eis/2015/09-30-15/deis.pdf

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