Since its founding in 1992, Coalition members have successfully restored hundreds of river miles affected by hydropower dams. Our efforts together have resulted in many environmental and recreational improvements.
River Restoration through Hydropower Licensing
The Hydropower Reform Coalition has used the federal licensing process since the early 1990s to restore rivers impacted by hydropower projects. It is hard to determine or quantify the impact our engagement in the federal licensing process has had. Our guesstimate is that our engagement has led to the improvement of environmental and recreational flows, improvement in water quality, fish passage, access, improved habitat for thousands of river miles, protection of thousands of acres of watershed land, and countless opportunities for boating, fishing, and other forms of recreation. In the American West (including California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana), we have engaged in more than a hundred federal licensing proceedings that have improved literally hundreds of river miles. Our engagement in these proceedings through “settlements” has resulted in billions of dollars of capital investments and other economic benefits, including more than a billion dollars of capital investment in one project in California alone. Since 2010 when we started keeping track of “river miles improved” in the West, we have restored or improved almost 1900 river miles.
Since our existence, we have signed more than 200 settlement agreements representing almost 20,000 MW of hydropower capacity that form the basis for the federal license for hydropower projects. These settlements have led to better management of water resources and better cooperation among stakeholders. In some cases, such settlements led to the removal of dams.
We have successfully removed dozens of dams using or hinging on the FERC licensing process, more specifically through the FERC’s decommissioning process or through settlements as part of licensing. Some examples of such removals include Marmot and Little Sandy Dams in Oregon, Mill Town dam in Montana, Bear Cove dam in Idaho, Elwha, Glines Canyon and Condit dams in Washington. We have also spent resources to remove the four dams on the Klamath River, which will likely happen in 2020 and would be the largest river restoration effort in the world. We played an instrumental role in negotiating the settlement leading up to the removal of dams as well as sustainable management of water resources in the Klamath Basin.
Using our FERC expertise, we have protected thousands of miles of river from new hydropower dams. We have fought off dozens of new dams in Alaska, Washington, Idaho, and California. Some examples of new dam proposals that are now dead include Shanker’s Bend in Washington, Oneida Narrows in Idaho, Watana dam on the Susitna River, and dozens of other dams on the Snake, Teton, Boise, and Weiser Rivers.
Below is a list of selected policy achievements we have had since 2000.
Development and Implementation of Integrated Licensing Process
We played an instrumental role in the development of Integrated Licensing Process (ILP) in 2005 that allows for:
- Improved public involvement and collaboration,
- Increased Accountability of Licensees
- Establishment of formal dispute resolution process, and
- Encourages collaborative science
When we noticed some concerns with the implementation of ILP, we followed up with FERC in 2008 and in 2011 to report our problems with FERC. We then worked with FERC and other stakeholders to suggest ways to better implement the ILP. FERC adopted many of our recommendations and developed a best practices document.
Our engagement in licensing proceedings as well as our work with other stakeholders such as resource agencies and tribes has led to the FERC relicensing process from being an adversarial process to a more collaborative approach.
We fought numerous legislative attempts to weaken the environmental protections provided in the federal licensing process.[*] Examples include
- Defended the authorities of states and tribes to protect water quality and other resources in almost every Congress.
- Defended the authorities of federal resources agencies to protect the resources they have the mandate of protecting.
- Opposed hydro title of National Energy Bill in 2004.
- Defended FERC’s implementation of Tribal Consultation Policy that was under attack by the hydropower industry.
Policies on New Hydropower Development
We have engaged with the Department of Energy and other stakeholders over the last couple of years in their effort to establish a national vision for hydropower development. We have vigorously opposed construction of new dams as a way to increase hydropower generation. We have always supported adding hydropower at existing dams and improving efficiency as the preferred way to increase generation. To that end, we worked with the industry and members of Congress to pass a bipartisan legislation in 2013 that would make it easier to add hydropower capacity at existing dams and conduits. On numerous occasions, we have worked with the industry and relevant federal agencies to expedite the regulatory process for adding hydropower at Corps dams without compromising environmental values.
- In California and other states in the West, we have staved off efforts to include all types of hydropower in the states’ renewable energy standards. Doing so would give undue incentives to hydropower, a technology that is more than a century old, and take the focus and the investment away from new true renewable energy sources such as wind and solar. This included working with advocates in Canada and building relationships with legislators in those states.
- Also in California, we have beaten efforts to weaken the renewable energy standards in order to import hydropower from British Columbia.
- We played a pivotal role in the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in November 2013 between FERC and the California State Water Resources Control Board to better coordinate the interactions between the two agencies to fulfill their responsibilities under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for hydropower licensing.
- We helped negotiate the concepts in the Alternative Licensing Process in 1997, as well as FERC’s settlement policy in 2005, each of which reversed FERC’s historical preference for notice-and-comment proceedings and provided that settlements are a preferred basis for licensing.
- We have worked with the industry to encourage FERC to issue guidance on settlement, which they did in 2005.
- We secured a lead role in the Pacific Forest and Watershed Stewardship Council that aims to protect 140,000 acres of California’s pristine watershed lands and to invest in outdoor programs to serve the youth. We continue to play an active role in the Council to identify opportunities for restoration.
- Just as we have used hydropower licensing work to remove dams, in many instances, we have leveraged our hydropower work to seek permanent protections for rivers that are constantly threatened by new dam proposals.
- We have also worked collaboratively with the hydropower industry and Congress to pass sensible hydropower legislation. Examples include the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013 that makes it easier to develop certain types of small hydropower.
Here are some legal victories we and/or our partners have had in protecting rivers from impacts of hydropower development.
SD Warren Company v. Maine Board of Environmental Protection (2005)
SD Warren, a company that was seeking a FERC license, argued that the water moving through hydroelectric dams was not a ‘discharge’ for the purposes of Clean Water Act and thus they did not require a water quality certification under CWA § 401. Coalition staff and members helped to organize 36 states, 8 tribes, and 48 NGO partners—among others—to weigh in to side with the state of Maine. The court disagreed with SD Warren’s contention and determined that such water does constitute “discharge” and that SD Warren must obtain a water quality certification from the state. This was another big win for us because if the court had sided with SD Warren, it could have meant that CWA protections could not be applied in hydropower licensing proceedings. We prevailed at a time when EPAct had just passed and agencies’ authorities had just been curtailed.
City of Tacoma v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (2006)
In a 2006 case involving the Cushman hydroelectric project on the Skokomish River in Washington, the DC Court of Appeals ruled that FERC has no authority to reject conditions submitted by federal agencies under §4(e) of the Federal Power Act (FPA) and that FERC is not required to issue licenses that guarantee the project will be profitable. The first ruling is crucial because FPA §4(e) provides a tool to resource agencies to protect and restore natural resources during hydropower licensing. The ruling favored the agencies and determined that FERC needs to either accept the conditions as they are issued by the agencies or not issue a license at all.
- One of our objectives has always been to train advocates to use the licensing process to protect rivers and natural resources. To that end, we have held numerous training on FERC’s licensing process and educated the public about effective citizen engagement. We have organized workshops on topics such as license implementation, dam removal and improving flows through the federal licensing process.
- In 2006, we trained more than 20 activists on FERC and river sciences through the Yuba River FERC Academy.
- In 2008, we organized a workshop attended by academics, scientists, FERC staff, industry and NGO representatives on the inclusion of climate modeling in FERC decision-making.
- Membership has increased from a few dozen in the early 1990s to more than 160 now.
Communications and Media
- Dameffects.org website is probably one of our best products. The interactive website educates the public about the harmful effects of hydropower dams and how the effects can be mitigated. The website has been used to educate decision-makers and students around the world.
- We have produced dozens of videos on YouTube, countless op-eds, and LTEs focusing on the importance of healthy rivers and the importance of restoring rivers damaged by hydropower dams.
Advancing the State-of-the-Art Science
- We published a “Science Guide” in 2006 that solely focuses on using scientific approaches to evaluate hydroelectric project’s effects.
- We have published seven “hydro guides” including HRC’s Relicensing Toolkit (Hydropower Licensing Guide) - a resource that has been widely used by NGOs and other stakeholders. All of our guides are heavily used by all stakeholders in the hydropower licensing process.
- We always rely on science and have regularly relied on scientists and technical experts in FERC proceedings.
- We hosted a conference in 2003 to discuss different approaches for quantifying and evaluating ecologically sustainable flow regimes in hydropower licensing.
- We hosted the first conference on climate change and hydropower licensing in 2010 where we brought together more than 75 climate scientists and representatives from FERC, resource agencies, industry representatives, and conservation groups to discuss the usefulness of current climate science in hydropower decision-making.
[*] A major setback happened in 2005 when, through the Energy Policy Act, Congress made it more difficult and expensive for resource agencies to put in license conditions to protect natural resources. However, we assumed a victory in 2006 in the Klamath relicensing where resource agency-recommended license conditions were upheld by an administrative court thereby discouraging other licensees from abusing the administrative hearing procedure.
Also, learn about our accomplishments in following six rivers basins: