Merced River Campaign
NOTE: HR 934 which is designed to achieve the same objectives as last year's HR 2578 by rolling back the Wild & Scenic Boundary rather than allowing the flooding of the designated stretch of the Merced.
Get the latest update on the bill's movements by visiting the Congressional bill tracking site "Thomas" and entering "HR 934" in the bill search box.
Recent & Important Merced Media Coverge
Exchequer Dam relicensing: FERC panel backs changes to scope of Merced River study
By JONAH OWEN LAMB, Published by the Merced Sun-Star on December 9, 2009
Merced Irrigation District is in the process of relicensing Exchequer Dam. The old Exchequer Dam is seen in Lake McClure.
A dispute panel of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently recommended changes in the agency's environmental studies, opposing an earlier ruling, according to the panel's findings.
In September MID scored a coup when FERC, the body responsible for relicensing its hydroelectric project, ruled that the agency doesn't need to extensively study its dams' downstream impacts for relicensing. In effect, the ruling said the health of fisheries downstream of the district's dams aren't under FERC's licensing jurisdiction.
That decision didn't sit well with several environmentalist groups -- or with state and federal agencies whose environmental determinations are needed in the relicensing.
So those groups voiced their opposition in letters to FERC. Then they filed an official complaint over the ruling.
Now that complaint has won them a minor victory in the ongoing battle over the future of the Merced River.
FERC's three-person dispute panel recommended Dec. 2 that FERC's September ruling should be changed. It said FERC should make MID study some of the dam's downstream impacts. The recommendations limited the scope of some of those downstream impacts to where Oakdale Road passes over the Merced River, instead of all the way to the Delta, as some had hoped.
While the panel only makes recommendations, in the past FERC has ruled with the majority of such recommendations, said Ron Stork with Friends of the River, an environmental group that opposed the September ruling.
"They all reached a conclusion the project has direct effects on the river down stream and that therefore the commission's determinations were built on the wrong foundation," said Stork.
But Ken Robbins, MID's legal counsel, said the recommendations are neither a victory nor a loss. "Generally speaking, we are fairly satisfied with the panel's findings," said Robbins.
Despite the panel's recommendations, none of the complaining agencies will hold up the license in the long run, said Robbins. If the National Marine Fisheries Service doesn't issue a biological opinion FERC can move ahead anyway -- although that has never happened, he added.
On the surface, each ruling in the FERC relicensing process may seem to be just one more twist in the tangle of regulatory red tape governing the Merced River. But every step in the process may influence the future of MID's control over how it will run its hydroelectric operations -- a critical planning element for county farmers and ranchers.
The district's current license with FERC runs out in 2012.
Despite FERC's September decision, the project's impacts on endangered fish and water quality downstream on the Merced River must be included in the license, under the Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts, according to filings by NMFS and the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).
That means before any license is issued, the NMFS must issue a biological opinion about the river's fish species. The SWRCB has to give the project a clean bill of health when it comes to the Clean Water Act, said Stork.
According to filings, SWRCB and NFMS say the limited scope of study for the project's impacts isn't a realistic approach to understanding the environmental effects of the dams.
FERC's director of energy services, Jeff Wright, is scheduled to rule on the required environmental studies for MID's license on or before Dec. 21.
Reporter Jonah Owen Lamb can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or email@example.com.
March 7, 2013: HR 934 to rollback Merced's Wild & Scenic Protections introduced - see main Merced Page
From its source in the Yosemite high country to the foothills below, the Merced River is one of the few undammed rivers in the Sierra Nevada. In recognition of its rare free flowing character and outstanding values, the Merced was protected as a National Wild & Scenic River. Just downstream of the Merced Wild & Scenic River in the Sierra foothills, the river flows into McClure Reservoir behind the New Exchequer Dam. This is the segment of the Merced that provides water storage, hydropower, and flood control for Californians.
There are four major dams on the Merced. The largest is New Exchequer Dam owned and operated by the Merced Irrigation District (MID). This 479 foot-high dam and its large one million acre-foot reservoir is the primary water storage, hydropower, and flood control facility on the river. Just downstream of New Exchequer is the McSwain Dam and Reservoir, which reregulates flows from New Exchequer and provides a modest amount of hydropower. Downstream of McSwain Dam is the Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) much smaller Merced Falls Hydrolectric Project. And downstream of the Merced Falls Dam is the even smaller Crocker-Huffman Dam, which is also owned by MID and diverts water for irrigation purposes from the lower Merced River.
The federal licenses for MID’s New Exchequer and McSwain Dam and PG&E’s Merced Falls Dam are up for renewal. Federal relicensing of these hydroelectric projects provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring dam operations up to modern environmental standards and restore downstream flows for fish, wildlife, and recreation. MID has already issued its Notice of Intent to file for relicensing of New Exchequer/McSwain. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has begun the proceedings and currently the relicensing parties (including Friends of the River) are determining the studies that will be used to evaluate impacts to the river system. MID is scheduled to file its license application by the last day of February 2012.
Although the MID’s Crocker-Huffman irrigation diversion dam is not a facility regulated by FERC, it removes water from the river to a main canal with approximately a 2,000 cubic-feet per second (cfs) capacity when in use. Therefore flow releases from the upstream hydroelectric projects ultimately determine how much water is left after the Crocker-Huffman dam removes its allocation, and thus how much water will actually go downstream in the lower river for fish, wildlife, and recreation. The dams are inextricably linked and Friends of the River is endeavoring to ensure that all dam operations will be coordinated to meet the lower Merced River’s biological needs.
The upper San Joaquin River runs dry in most years due to upstream diversions. So the Merced River is considered the effective headwaters of the San Joaquin River system, as it is the first tributary to contribute noticeable flows to the dewatered upper San Joaquin River. Improving flows and physical habitat in this river should be a significant component of any Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta restoration program, and a key factor controlling the water flow on the Merced River is the amount released from New Exchequer Dam. Friends of the River is working hard on the relicensing to protect, defend, and improve the Merced River system in several key areas:
Wild & Scenic River – Friends of the River is defending the Wild and Scenic River above the New Exchequer Dam. This river segment was protected by Congress in 1992, but is threatened by MID’s proposal to raise the New Exchequer Dam and expand the reservoir, which would invade and flood the upstream wild and scenic corridor.
Fish Passage – Friends of the River is investigating potential opportunities for fish passage above the all four dams to restore salmon and steelhead to their historic habitat in the upper Merced River watershed. State and federal resource agencies have been working with Friends of the River and other interested parties to gather additional information on existing fish passageways and conditions necessary to improve available habitat upstream of the dams.
Merced Water Quality/Flows – Friends of the River is advocating for improved water quality, increased flows, and restoration of physical habitat for anadromous (salmon and steelhead) fisheries downstream of all four dams. The lower Merced is important for the ecologically-significant Central Valley steelhead and fall-run Chinook salmon, and it is imperative to enhance this ecosystem to promote development of all life-stages for the fisheries and related communities.
Delta Water Quality/Flows – The Merced plays an important role in providing flows in the lower San Joaquin River and the beleaguered Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Water from the Merced River increases the volume of flows and improves water quality in the San Joaquin. This translates to more water flowing into the Delta, improving conditions both for anadromous fish migrating to the ocean and for reducing salinity in the Delta system. Government agencies involved in the Merced relicensing project must evaluate impacts beyond the dams themselves, and look for ways to improve the Merced’s contribution to the larger San Joaquin system and the Delta.
For more information concerning Friends of the River’s Merced River Restoration Campaign, contact Ron Stork (916) 442-3155 x220, email: mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about the FERC relicensing of the New Exchequer/McSwain project, visit http://www.eurekasw.com/MID/default.aspx.
To learn more about the Merced River, click here.