American Whitewater files for Whitewater Releases on Upper North Fork Hydro

posted December 2, 2003
by John Gangemi

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The Upper North Fork Feather River contains two distinct whitewater runs: The eleven -mile Class IV-V Seneca run and the nine-mile Class III Belden run. PG&E's Upper North Fork Feather Hydropower Project, FERC No. 2105, dewaters each of these runs. In 2000, American Whitewater Conservation Director John Gangemi began work on this lengthy relicense process. In the fall of 2000 American Whitewater carried out a Whitewater Controlled Flow Study on both the Seneca and Belden runs. Thirty-five participants consisting of kayakers and rafters participated in the study.

PG&E operates a stairway of hydropower facilities consisting of three dams, affiliated reservoirs and powerhouses. The net result is a dewatered river channel. The last facility, Belden dam, reservoir and powerhouse went online in 1970. Prior to construction and operation of this project the Belden run was the site for numerous slalom races in the 1960's and hosted the National championships for slalom and wildwater in 1962 (The River Chasers, p. 90). Once the Belden project went online the Belden run rarely witnessed a paddler on the water let alone a National championship event.

In the relicense process American Whitewater has sought to restore whitewater opportunities to the Belden reach with its rich paddling history. American Whitewater has asked for an annual schedule of ten whitewater releases June through October, real-time flow information, improved access and increased instream flows for protection of aquatic biodiversity. American Whitewater's comments are available electronically.

The FERC will now balance the competing interests for the North Fork Feather River with terms and conditions of operation in the new hydropower license. American Whitewater will continue to represent the paddling community in this FERC proceeding. In the meantime, American Whitewater and other stakeholders are working on a settlement agreement with PG&E for re-operation of the hydropower project. These negotiations are on a parallel track with the FERC relicense process. Our goal is to reach settlement with PG&E.