Middle Fork American River Project Relicensing

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WHAT IS MIDDLE FORK PROJECT RELICENSING? | Relicensing Process Plan and Schedule | Project Description | Original License Order
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PLACER COUNTY WATER AGENCY (PCWA OR LICENSEE) owns and operates the Middle Fork American River Project (MFP or Project), a system consisting of two major storage reservoirs, five smaller regulating reservoirs and diversion pools, and five powerhouses that began operation in 1967. The MFP supplies water for homes, industry, and agriculture within western Placer County and clean renewable energy to the California electric grid.

The MFP is located on the west slope of the Sierra Nevada range primarily in Placer County, California. A small component of the Project (a portion of Ralston Afterbay Dam) is located in El Dorado County, California. The Project is almost entirely in the Tahoe (TNF) and Eldorado (ENF) National Forests, with a small portion on PCWA-owned property.

The Project’s major storage reservoirs, French Meadows and Hell Hole, have a combined capacity of 342,583 acre-feet (ac-ft). The Project has a generation capacity of approximately 224 megawatts (MW) and has produced an average of about 1 million megawatt-hours (MWh) per year. The Project includes recreation facilities near its storage reservoirs. In addition, its operations accommodate popular whitewater rafting opportunities in the Middle Fork American River below Oxbow Powerhouse.

The MFP is operated under a 50-year license (Project No. 2079), which was issued by the Federal Power Commission, predecessor of the current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or Commission). The current license expires on March 1, 2013. PCWA is seeking the renewal of its license to continue operations of the MFP.

Although the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) did not exist in 1963 when the current license was granted, there was nevertheless an understanding of the tradeoff of natural resources and economic values inherent in the construction and operation of the MFP. Those 1963 decisions balancing environmental and economic values were consistent with the societal values of the day.

In 1986, the Federal Power Act (FPA) was amended requiring FERC to develop license conditions “with equal consideration of developmental and environmental values”. Developmental values include power generation, irrigation, flood control, and water supply. Environmental values include fish and wildlife resources, visual resources, cultural resources, recreation opportunities, and other aspects of environmental quality. This balancing of developmental and environmental values will be reflected in the terms and conditions of the new license for the MFP and will no doubt reflect current societal values and sensitivities.

PCWA and the County of Placer, as collaborators in this relicensing, consider themselves to be good stewards of the environmental, cultural, and economic resources of Placer County. Each looks forward in this relicensing to an open and straightforward investigation of the resource questions and a timely and fair resolution of issues with stakeholders, leading to the on-time issuance of a new license by FERC.

To formally initiate relicensing, FERC requires the Licensee to file a Pre-Application Document (PAD), a Notification of Intent (NOI) to seek a license, and to initiate consultations prescribed under the Integrated Licensing Process (ILP or relicensing process) a minimum of five years prior to the expiration of the current license. With submittal of the PAD and NOI to FERC, PCWA has formally initiated the relicensing process for the MFP. The PAD was prepared in compliance with Section 18 Part 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations (18 CFR Part 5), which defines the content requirements of the document.

The PAD prepared for the relicensing of the MFP includes:
  • PCWA’s proposed process plan and schedule for relicensing of the MFP, which is consistent with the ILP;
  • A description of the Project’s existing facilities, historic operational practices, and proposed facility betterments/improvements;
  • A description of existing environmental and cultural resources and potential impacts associated with the Project based on existing data sources and early field studies;
  • A list of resource interests (preliminary issues) developed in collaboration with the stakeholders;
  • Detailed stakeholder-approved Technical Study Plans which focus on filling gaps in the available environmental and cultural information, and providing a factual basis for the establishment of Protection, Mitigation and Enhancement measures (PM&Es) in the new license; and
  • A description of consultation efforts with stakeholders made in connection with the preparation of the PAD.

Information contained in the PAD will be used during the NEPA and CEQA scoping process to further refine potential resource issues, identify related information needs, formulate study requests, and develop any additional study plans.

FERC will be the lead agency for the preparation of an Environmental Assessment (EA) or an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) under NEPA, one of which is required for issuance of a new license for the Project. Upon receiving the NOI and PAD from PCWA, FERC will publish a Notice of Commencement (NOC) to prepare an EA or EIS and will initiate scoping.

PCWA is also required to obtain a 401 Water Quality Certification from California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) as a precondition to FERC’s issuance of a new license. PCWA will be the lead agency for the preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) under CEQA, which is required for the issuance of the 401 Water Quality Certification by SWRCB (as a responsible agency) and for implementation of any betterments or PM&Es by PCWA which are allowed or required under the new license. PCWA will publish a Notice of Preparation (NOP) of a Draft EIR separate from the PAD in conjunction with FERC publishing the NOC, so that environmental scoping meetings under NEPA and CEQA can be combined, and to streamline the environmental documentation and review processes.

The PAD is an extensive document, consisting of an Executive Summary and 10 volumes of Supporting Documents. This Executive Summary is intended to provide the reader with an overview of the PAD contents by summarizing the more detailed technical information contained within each Supporting Document.


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WHAT IS MIDDLE FORK PROJECT RELICENSING? | Relicensing Process Plan and Schedule | Project Description | Original License Order