Oregon DEQ may reject water permit for 7-MW Wickiup hydro project

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is taking comments until Jan. 12 on the proposed denial of a section 401 water quality certification for the Wickiup Dam Hydroelectric Project, which involves the addition of hydroelectric generation to an existing dam.

In April 2011, DEQ received an application for water quality certification for the Wickiup Hydroelectric Project. This project is subject to a pending Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license application under docket No. 12965. Wickiup Dam Hydroelectric Project seeks to retrofit the existing Wickiup Dam to produce hydropower. Since then, Wickiup Hydro has annually withdrawn and resubmitted its application while the effects were studied of project operation on resident fish below the dam. DEQ received the most recent application on Feb. 4, 2016.

In February 2016, the U.S. Forest Service released its Final Section 4(e) Terms and Conditions. DEQ determined the scope of the project as conditioned by the U.S. Forest Service modifies the project description proposed in the section 401 application. In September 2016 DEQ requested Wickiup Hydro file a revised section 401 application no later than Dec. 1, 2016. As of this new public notice posting, DEQ has not received the requested revised application.

Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act allows states up to one year to evaluate the effects of the proposed action on water quality. DEQ finds that the February 2016 section 401 application does not provide reasonable assurance that the project will comply with applicable water quality standards and other appropriate requirements of state law. For this reason, DEQ proposes to deny that application without prejudice. Should Wickiup Hydro withdraw the February 2016 application and resubmit a new one that includes the necessary information and data that may support a finding that the project, as proposed, is not likely to cause or contribute to a violation of water quality standards, DEQ will evaluate that application in accordance with applicable law.

The Wickiup Reservoir and dam are in Deschutes County, approximately 40 miles southwest of Bend. Wickiup Dam and reservoir were built by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in 1949 and are operated by the North Unit Irrigation District to provide seasonal irrigation releases to the Deschutes River. The dam does not currently include a hydroelectric facility.

The proposed retrofit would route existing releases through a 7.15-MW capacity Kaplan-type turbine. The project would use existing releases and would not alter the timing or magnitude of flows released from the dam. The project would include a new 50-foot by 50-foot powerhouse, a concrete tailrace, an adjacent parking area, a transformer, a buried 135-foot-long 29.4-kV transmission line and appurtenant facilities.

DEQ will hold a public hearing if it receives written requests for a hearing during the public comment period from at least 10 people or from an organization representing at least 10 people. In consideration of comments from the public, DEQ may reverse, modify, or uphold its decision to deny the project water quality certification.

In one of the latest filings in the license docket at FERC, FERC asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act for formal consultation. Said the letter: “The project would be located at the existing Bureau of Reclamation Wickiup Dam on the Deschutes River near the city of La Pine in Deschutes County, Oregon. We address the project’s effects on the Oregon spotted frog (Rana pretiosa) and its critical habitat in our supplemental biological assessment (Attachment A). We conclude that licensing the project with our recommended measures and the mandatory conditions, would be likely to adversely affect the Oregon spotted frog and its designated critical habitat.”

On Jan. 30 of this year, filed with FERC was a Jan. 26 letter from Northwest Power Services to the Oregon DEQ about the section 401 permitting process. The letter said: “On March 25, 2011, Symbiotics submitted a Final License Application for the Wickiup Dam Hydroelectric Project to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). When a Final License Application is submitted, the applicant must request certification from the State of Oregon under section 401 of the Clean Water Act. Symbiotics submitted a 401 water quality certification application to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (ODEQ) on April 22, 2011. This 401 application was received by the ODEQ on April 25, 2011. In addition to this original application a letter requesting a withdrawal and resubmission of the 401 water quality certification was mailed to ODEQ on March 20, 2012 and subsequently on March 8, 2013, March 10, 2014 and February 4, 2015.

“Section 401 allows the ODEQ a reasonable time, not to exceed one year, to review each certification application. However, additional information regarding the Wickiup Dam Hydroelectric Project may be forthcoming from the FERC, and this information will be relevant to the 401 certification process. For instance, the FERC released the final environmental assessment on November 2, 2012 that describes the project’s effects on state waters. Since the final environmental assessment has been released, other agencies now have the opportunity to suggest changes to the project’s design that may be included in the project’s final design. If adopted, these design changes have the potential to impact water quality of state waters. In order for the ODEQ to adequately assess impacts of the Wickiup Dam Hydroelectric Project on waters of the state of Oregon, the ODEQ may require additional time to review updated designs of project features.

“Accordingly, the applicant hereby withdraws its request for 401 certification dated February 4, 2015. Concurrently, the applicant requests resubmittal of the same 401 certification application to the ODEQ. This resubmission request for 401 certification should provide ODEQ with adequate time to assess project effects on waters of the state of Oregon.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.