S.C. rejects Clean Water Act certification for 724.74-MW Catawba-Wateree

Duke Energy’s 724.74-MW Catawba-Wateree hydroelectric project has become a pawn in a water rights squabble between South Carolina and North Carolina.

At the urging of South Carolina Attorney General Henry McMaster, the South Carolina Board of Health and Environmental Control reversed its staff’s approval of water quality certification for the project under Clean Water Act Section 401. State Clean Water Act certification, or waiver of certification, is required before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can issue a relicense to the project (No. 2232) on the two-state Catawba River.

Duke Energy Carolinas LLC has options available including appealing the South Carolina board decision to the state Administrative Law Court or filing a new 401 application.

Duke filed an application to relicense Catawba-Wateree’s 13 powerhouses and 11 reservoirs in 2006. Five of the project’s dams are located in South Carolina. The remainder are in North Carolina, which has issued its 401 certification.

Several environmental groups had appealed issuance of the 401 certificate by the staff of the Department of Health and Environmental Control. However, McMaster argued issuance of the permit could interfere with a lawsuit by South Carolina against North Carolina, which is before the U.S. Supreme Court. South Carolina seeks to reduce the amount of water North Carolina withdraws from the Catawba before it flows into South Carolina.

With only four of the board’s seven members attending, the panel voted unanimously July 9, 2009, to deny certification. Before it was overruled, DHEC staff had found there was a “reasonable assurance” Duke would operate the project in a manner that would meet 401 certification requirements.

FERC draft EIS, settlement agreement recommend relicensing

FERC staff issued a draft environmental impact statement in March, recommending relicensing of the project. (HydroWorld 3/13/09)

The draft EIS described Duke’s proposed measures to: protect and enhance environmental resources, including increased minimum flows; improve aquatic habitat and protect threatened and endangered species; and maintain and enhance recreational opportunities. It also described a proposal to build a new 26.4-MW powerhouse to replace 18-MW Bridgewater powerhouse as part of a seismic remediation project at Linville Dam. (HydroWorld 4/16/07)

In 2006, Duke signed a comprehensive relicensing agreement for the project with 82 percent of eligible stakeholders. (HydroWorld 8/17/06) Only 15 participants did not sign the agreement, among them American Rivers, South Carolina DHEC, and the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, Environmental Protection Agency, and Fish and Wildlife Service.

Under the settlement, Duke agreed to higher flow releases to increase aquatic habitat and reintroduce consistent flows to some parts of the river for the first time in nearly 100 years. Lake level ranges also were established to protect municipal, industrial, and power generation water intakes, as well as recreation and property interests. Duke also agreed to install new powerhouse equipment to increase dissolved oxygen levels in plant discharges to improve water quality and fish habitat.

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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