Restoring Rivers Through the FERC Licensing Process


In the next 15 years, approximately 25 California hydropower projects — over 150 dams — will need to obtain a new operating license. The licensing process provides a unique opportunity for a wide variety of stakeholders — utilities, state and federal resource agencies, tribes, 
irrigators, conservationists and recreationists — to agree upon new license conditions that protect fish and wildlife, improve water quality and provide increased opportunities for pubic recreation. 
Environmental Goals for Hydropower Reform
Rivers are a public resource — they are owned by all. Today, the ability to generate electricity must be evaluated alongside all demands for water including the environment, recreation and water supply. A hydropower license can essentially be viewed as a rental agreement for the next 30 to 50 years. Typical improvements to hydropower operations can achieve:
  • Higher instream flows
  • Flow release schedules that mimic seasonal flow cycles
  • Enhanced habitat for fish and wildlife
  • Improved water temperatures
  • Upstream and downstream fish passage
  • Increased recreational opportunities and public access to rivers
Settlements — the Basis for New Licenses
The time, cost and effort stakeholders devote to the licensing process are strong incentives to work together and agree upon license conditions that meet the needs of all parties. Collaboration tends to prevent or reduce the frequency and severity of disputes about the dam owner’s final license. Although a settlement may occur any time prior to FERC’s issuance of a final license, it’s a good idea to begin negotiating as soon as possible. Generally, if FERC determines a settlement is supported by substantial evidence and meets the requirements for a license, it will approve the settlement and incorporate the agreement’s provisions as license articles.