Settlement Reached for Rock Creek-Cresta Hydropower Project

Posted: 10/19/2000
by Nick Lipowski



For Immediate Release, October 13, 2000

Settlement Reached for Rock Creek-Cresta Hydropower Project
North Fork Feather River, California

(Silver Spring, MD) American Whitewater, in concert with other recreational and environmental groups as well as state and federal resource agencies reached a settlement agreement with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) dictating future operations of the Rock Creek-Cresta Hydroelectric Project for the next 30 years. The agreement signed on September 18, 2000 strikes a balance between continued hydropower generation and ecological and recreational restoration of the North Fork Feather River. Included in the settlement are improved river flows for: fish, wildlife, and other aquatic biota; stream channel maintenance; water quality; and whitewater boating.

The Rock Creek-Cresta Project is a privately owned hydroelectric facility regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). FERC grants private utilities 30 to 50 year licenses. In essence, a hydropower license is a temporary permit. The relicense process, through the input of state and federal agencies and the public, is intended to evaluate project operations and establish specific conditions in the next license term for resource protection, mitigation and enhancement. In theory, relicensing is a renewed investigation to determine if a project should continue to operate on a public river and, if so, what conditions are necessary to protect the river, mitigate project impacts and enhance the river resource. In reality, a new license is rubber stamped with operating conditions nearly identical to the previous license unless the public gets involved. American Whitewater, recognizing the outstanding ecological and whitewater resources on the North Fork Feather River, stepped in to fill that role in the Rock Creek-Cresta relicense.

The North Fork Feather River is a tremendous whitewater resource. According to John Gangemi, Conservation Director for American Whitewater, "The North Fork Feather River could have been one of the top five whitewater destinations in the country if PG&E had not diverted all the water from the river. The North Fork offers boating opportunities from Class III to V in an outstanding aesthetic backdrop of pines and sierra granite. This settlement gives the public the opportunity to paddle the North Fork again." The agreement also locks in an annual schedule of whitewater releases, accurate flow information accessible via a toll free phone and the Internet, and access improvements.

The Rock Creek-Cresta project consists of two dams that dewater two separate reaches of the North Fork Feather. Under the previous license, Rock Creek dam diverted all but 100 cfs from a 9 mile river segment that contains two distinctly different whitewater runs: The four mile Class III Rock Creek run and the five mile Class IV-V Tobin run. Under the previous license, Cresta Dam diverted all but 50 cfs from the five mile Class IV Cresta run. In June 1999, American Whitewater volunteers conducted a recreation controlled flow study to identify optimum whitewater flows for the three runs dewatered by the Rock Creek-Cresta hydropower project. The results from the recreation controlled flow study formed the foundation for negotiating an annual schedule of releases in the new license.

The agreement calls for whitewater releases on consecutive weekend days in both the Rock Creek and Cresta reaches June through October. In the first three years, whitewater flows will be released on the first weekend of each month June through October for a total of ten days annually. After three years, the number of whitewater days can increase annually based on the number of boaters using the river in the previous year. Boaters will be counted during each release. Use numbers exceeding pre-established quotas will result in additional weekend days for the respective months June through October. Whitewater releases could eventually increase to 38 days annually. The settlement agreement also provides funds for development of four river access sites on both reaches, as well as, real time flow information accessible via the Internet and a toll free phone.

The Rock Creek-Cresta project is sandwiched between PG&E's upstream and downstream hydropower facilities, the Upper North Fork Feather hydro project and Poe hydro project respectively. The Poe and Upper North Fork Feather hydropower projects have recently started the relicensing process. These two projects contain 4 reservoirs, 4 dewatered river channels, and 4 powerhouses collectively. In May 2000, American Whitewater volunteers participated in a controlled flow study to identify optimum whitewater flows for the eight mile Poe reach which contains a 4.5 mile Class IV-V section and a 3.5 mile Class III section. In September 2000, American Whitewater volunteers participated in a controlled flow study to identify optimum whitewater for the reaches dewatered by the Upper North Fork hydropower project. In the coming year, American Whitewater will work with PG&E developing a watershed based annual whitewater flow schedule in which one release will occur every weekend day June through October. This release will alternate between reaches with preference given to those reaches that demonstrate the greatest demand from the paddling community.

"Releases into the Rock Creek and Cresta reaches coupled with releases at upstream and downstream hydropower projects will make the North Fork Feather River a premier whitewater destination," according to Kevin Lewis, a member of American Whitewater's Board of Directors personally involved in the relicensing processes on the North Fork Feather.

Dave Steindorf, local paddler and American Whitewater Regional Coordinator, is delighted with the future paddling prospects on the North Fork Feather, "When it comes to water in California rivers we've always said that 'PG&E giveth and PG&E taketh away.' Well American Whitewater just pushed PG&E to giveth an annual schedule of whitewater releases."

American Whitewater is a national nonprofit river conservation and access organization with headquarters in Silver Spring, MD. American Whitewater's mission is to conserve and restore America's whitewater resources and enhance opportunities to enjoy them safely.

For more information or to inquire about the other hydropower relicensings in your area, contact John Gangemi at (406) 837-3155, American Whitewater's Montana Conservation Office, or visit our Website at www.americanwhitewater.org