Feds revoke operating license for hydropower dam on Ocmulgee River

Published 10/24/2014  |  American Rivers

(Washington, DC) – The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission late last week revoked the operating license of Eastern Hydroelectric Corporation for the East Juliette hydropower dam located on the Ocmulgee River, but failed to require dam removal as recommended by American Rivers and Altamaha Riverkeeper. American Rivers urged federal fisheries managers and the state to act swiftly to address the dam’s impacts and restore the river’s fisheries.

The East Juliette dam is old and outdated, and does not have fish passage facilities necessary to support robust redhorse, American shad, and native fish populations.  American Rivers called on the National Marine Fisheries Service, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state to ensure fish now blocked by the structure can move upstream to historic habitat either by fish passage or removal of the dam.

Part of Georgia’s largest river system, the Ocmulgee River drains portions of Metro Atlanta and flows through Macon and the heart of central Georgia. It merges with the Oconee River to form the Altamaha River, known as “Georgia’s Little Amazon,” before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.  The Ocmulgee is a gently flowing river known for its generally undisturbed landscape and exceptional fishing, canoeing, and kayaking.  The world record largemouth bass was caught in 1932 in Lake Montgomery, a natural oxbow lake of the Ocmulgee River. There are no dams on the Ocmulgee River or the Altamaha River below Juliette, meaning the river system is free-flowing from the Piedmont to the Georgia coast.

“FERC did the right thing in revoking this dam’s operating license. The owner was not meeting environmental standards, and it sends an important message to dam owners across the region and nation,” said Gerrit Jobsis, Southeast regional director for American Rivers. “Rivers are public resources and dam owners have a responsibility to operate their dams consistent with the law.”

“Unfortunately, FERC did not go far enough to address the impact of this hydropower dam. Now it is time for the dam owner to work with the National Marine Fisheries Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state to undo the damage to native fish populations by removing this harmful and outdated structure.”

Dam removal is the most cost-effective solution for restoring fish passage on this stretch of river. Dam removal has multiple benefits including restoring river and floodplain habitat, improving water quality, eliminating public safety hazards at the dam, and improving fishing, boating, and river recreation.

One example of how removing dams can provide multiple benefits to fish, recreation, and surrounding communities is on the Chattahoochee River near Columbus, Georgia and Phenix City, Alabama.  The removal of a pair of dams, completed earlier this decade, restored fish migrations and was central to the highly successful downtown redevelopment of these cities and a thriving local recreational economy centered on the river.

“We applaud FERC’s decision to revoke the operating license but maintain that the licensee needs to be held accountable for the full decommissioning of those project works owned by Eastern Hydroelectric Corporation, and we will continue to work towards that end,” stated Brian Lucy, Altamaha Riverkeeper & CEO.

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 250,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

Rivers connect us to each other, nature, and future generations. Find your connections at AmericanRivers.org, Facebook.com/AmericanRivers, and Twitter.com/AmericanRivers.