Panel Recommends Studying Downstream Impacts in Merced River Relicensing

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A panel formed to investigate the study related disputes in the relicensing of Merced River projects has found that FERC erred in limiting the geographic area which needed to be studied for impacts from the project.

The three-person panel was formed after the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the California State Water Resources Control Board did not agree with FERC’s previous determination and asked for a formal dispute resolution.

Merced Irrigation District, the operator of the project, had maintained in its proposed study plan that no studies needed to be conducted to evaluate the effects of the project downstream of the Crocker-Huffman Diversion Dam. In the Study Plan Determination issued on September 14, FERC staff had sided with the District arguing that the health of the fisheries downstream of the dams are not under FERC’s jurisdiction. Ironically, it’s the District which uses the dam to provide water for irrigation.

Coalition members California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, American Rivers, and Friends of River along with other environmental groups had also opposed FERC’s ruling. Read the comments from the Conservation Groups here.

The panel in its finding issued last week stated that there is a potential for cumulative impacts in the area downstream of the Crocker-Huffman dam and that should warrant studies to be extended beyond the area originally proposed by Merced Irrigation District and confirmed by FERC. The panel has recommended that the studies be extended to the Shaffer Bridge. Although FERC is yet to issue a final ruling, it is highly unlikely that the panel’s recommendation will be discarded.

The information obtained during studies is very critical in a licensing process as it is this information which the agencies use to recommend license conditions to protect resources and FERC uses to conduct its environmental analysis.

The license for the 103.5 MW Merced River Project (P-2179) operated by Merced Irrigation District is set to expire in 2014.