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Forest Service Issues Revised Conditions for Kern No. 3 Hydropower Project, (CA)

Posted: 01/21/2004
By: John Gangemi

The Sequoia National Forest filed the revised 4(e) conditions for the Kern River No. 3 Hydropower Project on the Kern River, California.  The section 4(e) conditions have been revised from those filed in 1996 by the Sequoia National Forest to reflect the changes requested in the Settlement Agreement reached between Southern California Edison (SCE), American Whitewater, Friends of the River and other parties in December, 2002.  Issuance of the Forest Service's revised conditions marks the end of a long legal battle regarding an annual schedule of whitewater flows on this seventeen-mile reach of the Kern.  Pursuant to sections 4(e) of the Federal Power Act these terms and conditions have been deemed necessary for the protection and utilization of the affected National Forest System lands.  Much of the project is located on lands of the Sequoia National Forest.


In December, 2002, American Whitewater, Friends of the River, and Southern California Edison (SCE) signed a Settlement Agreement for whitewater releases from Fairview Dam on the upper Kern River above the community of Kernville, California.  Whitewater releases for the Kern River No. 3 (KR3) Hydropower project, licensed by the FERC in 1996, have been locked up in a seven-year legal battle.  The Agreement and revised USFS 4(e) conditions increase the number of days for whitewater releases to 39 days annually as well as matches release volumes to kayak and rafting preferences.


Whitewater Recreation Flow Schedule

The KR3 hydropower project will provide the following schedule of whitewater releases below Fairview Dam beginning no later than 10 a.m. and ending no earlier than 5 p.m.



Boating Days

River Flow at Fairview Dam


Whitewater Release (cfs)

April 1 up to the weekend prior to Memorial Day Weekend

Fridays and Weekends

1,000 to 1,300


More than 1,700






Weekend prior to Memorial Day until July 4


1,000 to 1,300


More than 1,700






July 5 up to July 31


1,000 to 1,300


More than 1,700



Brief History of Kern River lawsuit

The Regional Forester filed a Decision Notice (DN), a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), and Final Section 4(e) conditions for the project on May 17, 1996.  That DN was appealed by American Whitewater, Friends of the River and other parties and subsequently withdrawn.  A new DN and FONSI for revised Final 4(e) conditions was issued on September 14, 1998.  This revised DN was once again appealed by Southern California Edison, American Whitewater Affiliation, Kern River Outfitters, Kernville Chamber of Commerce, and Kern River Valley Community Consensus Council.  On December 14, 1998, the Forest Service Appeal Deciding Officer remanded the decision to the Regional Forester.  The appeals were based in part on the fact that the Forest Service's recommendations did not comply with the local Forest Plan and failed to satisfactorily mitigate the impacts to whitewater resources resulting from hydropower project construction and operation. 


Because of the successful lawsuit the FERC issued a new license to SCE for the KR3 hydropower project on December 24, 1996 without a whitewater release schedule.  The whitewater release schedule was to be amended to the license once the lawsuit was resolved.  SCE, American Whitewater and Friends of the River elected to enter into settlement negotiations to craft a mutually agreeable whitewater flow schedule rather than let the court prescribe one.  That Settlement was reached in December, 2002.


Resources impacted by the KR3 Hydropower Project

The KR3 hydropower project diverts 600 cfs in a canal around seventeen-miles of the Kern River.  Flows in excess of 600 cfs typically occur during the spring and early summer coinciding with Sierra snowmelt.  When inflows to Fairview Dam exceed 600 cfs the dam spills water into this seventeen-mile reach. The hydropower project has no water storage capacity.  Whitewater opportunities in this seventeen-mile reach range from Class II to V depending on where you launch and take-out.


Next Steps

The FERC must amend the existing license for the KR3 project incorporating the revised 4(e) conditions from the U.S. Forest Service.  Once amended by the FERC, SCE will implement the whitewater schedule.  Hopefully this can be processed in time for the 2004 boating season. 


Associated Rivers

Associated Projects

Kern River (CA)

American Whitewater's history on the Kern River.

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