FERC EIS recommends relicensing 117.3-MW South Feather hydro

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued an environmental impact statement recommending the relicensing of the 117.3-MW South Feather hydroelectric project with staff recommendations that would cost the licensee an additional $1.2 million.

Licensee South Feather Water and Power Agency proposes relicensing South Feather (No. 2088), comprising four hydro developments, Sly Creek, Woodleaf, Forbestown, and Kelly Ridge, in Butte, Yuba, and Plumas counties of California. The project occupies 1,988 acres of federal land on the South Feather River, Lost Creek, and Slate Creek.

South Feather Water proposes no capacity or operating changes, but does propose measures to protect and enhance environmental resources. Measures include increased minimum flows, measures to improve aquatic habitat and protect sensitive species, enhanced recreation, and new whitewater boating opportunities. The EIS said the licensee’s proposal would result in an annual net benefit from the project of $27 million.

In the EIS, FERC staff recommended relicensing the project with the licensee’s proposed actions, plus additional staff recommendations for greater minimum flows, flow ramping rates to avoid stranding fish and invertebrates, streamflow measurements, and provision of flow and water temperature information to the California Department of Water Resources. FERC staff said its proposal would result in an annual net benefit of $25.8 million, down $1.2 million from the licensee proposal.

The EIS said FERC staff recommended its own additional proposals, but rejected a mandatory condition, for even higher minimum flows, imposed by the U.S. Forest Service under Federal Power Act Section 4(e). Although FERC must add the mandatory condition to the eventual license, the FERC EIS does not have to endorse it.

FERC staff said the Forest Service’s higher minimum flows only would reduce the net benefit by $216,000, to a total of $25.6 million. However, it said the increased flows were likely to make water temperature colder than optimal for trout and hardhead spawning and would reduce invertebrate diversity and production.

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