FERC receives South Carolina water quality certification for 739.182-MW Catawba-Wateree hydro project

The state of South Carolina has filed a revised water quality certification allowing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to proceed with re-licensing Duke Energy’s 739.182-MW Catawba-Wateree hydroelectric project.

Last April, FERC agreed with a South Carolina appeals court that found the state did not waive its right to issue water quality certification necessary for the relicensing of the Catawba-Wateree project (No. 2232). However, Duke had requested a rehearing of that decision.

In July, Duke then entered an agreement with the South Carolina Department of Health and Environment, environmentalist group American Rivers and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League to terminate all disputes over whether the department had waived its water quality certification under Clean Water Act Section 401. Under terms of the agreement, Duke refiled its application for water quality certification and the department issued certification containing certain conditions set forth in the agreement.

FERC received on Feb. 23 South Carolina’s new water quality certification containing conditions concerning reservoir elevations, recreation and habitat flows, species protection and water quality monitoring.

Duke also filed a notice with FERC that it was withdrawing its request for rehearing of the 401 waiver issue. Additionally, the Southern Environmental Law Center filed a letter with FERC on behalf of American Rivers and the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League supporting the water quality certification and supporting expedited issuance of a relicense for Catawba-Wateree.

State 401 certification — or waiver of that certification — is required before FERC can license or relicense a hydroelectric project. The Clean Water Act gives states one year to review an application, while South Carolina law gives only 180 days, after which point the state has waived, or given up, its right to certification allowing FERC to proceed.

Duke originally appealed to the South Carolina Administrative Law Court in 2009 because the South Carolina Board of Health and Environmental Control reversed the DHEC staff’s approval of water quality certification for the project.

However, the South Carolina Court of Appeals ruled in 2012 that the South Carolina Administrative Law Court was wrong to declare that the state Department of Health and Environmental Control waived certification by failing to act on Duke’s request for certification of Catawba-Wateree within the 180 days required by state law. The appeals court found that South Carolina regulations allow DHEC to stop the 180-day clock from running on the application while it awaits answers to its requests for more information from an applicant.

In overturning the DHEC staff’s 401 approval in 2009, the South Carolina Board of Health and Environmental Control found there were not sufficient flows provided to protect classified uses of the waterway and the endangered shortnose sturgeon or to ensure adequate downstream flows to assure water quality standards would be met.

Duke filed an application in 2006 to relicense Catawba-Wateree’s 13 powerhouses and 11 reservoirs in South Carolina and North Carolina. Five of the project’s dams are located in South Carolina. The rest are in North Carolina, which has issued its 401 certification. FERC has issued a final environmental impact statement endorsing the project’s relicensing.

Plants in the Catawba-Wateree project include 56-MW Wateree, 28-MW Rocky Creek, 45-MW Cedar Creek, 24-MW Great Falls, 46-MW Dearborn, 37-MW Fishing Creek, 60-MW Lake Wylie, 60-MW Mountain Island, 350-MW Cowans Ford, 26-MW Lookout Shoals, 36-MW Oxford, 26-MW Rhodhiss, and 20-MW Bridgewater.

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