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Resource Protection, Nooksack Falls (WA)

Posted: 03/29/2004
By: John Gangemi

BELLINGHAM, WA-Yesterday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) released its decision affirming federal jurisdiction for a hydropower project on Nooksack Falls, located on the North Fork Nooksack River in Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie Forest.  Conservation groups hailed the order, which would bring greater protections for the river, dependent fish and wildlife, and recreation.


"The truth is, no one knows what the impacts are," said Seth Cool, Conservation Associate for the Northwest Ecosystem Alliance.  "We know there are listed endangered species in the area.  We know that the Nooksack River and the falls are enormously valuable for recreation.  This decision starts the ball rolling to figure out what the impacts are to those resources, and then to take steps to fix them."


Puget Sound Energy owned the Nooksack Falls project before a damaging fire destroyed the facilities.  PSE then dropped their pending bid for a federal license and sold the facilities.  The new owner, Puget Sound Hydro, repaired the facilities, began generating power, and hired a DC-based lawyer to dissuade FERC from assuming jurisdiction.


"The Nooksack Falls hydropower owner has been pumping profit out of the river since last May, all the while arguing technicalities and shirking compliance with environmental regulations," said Tom O'Keefe, Regional Coordinator with American Whitewater.  "The jurisdiction process has dragged on while the project continues to cause unknown impacts to the Nooksack.  Yesterday, FERC finally put an end to this rigmarole."


The order concluded that the Nooksack Falls project required federal lands to operate, a decisive factor in jurisdiction.  Other tests include navigability of the waterway and impacts to interstate or international commerce.  According to this order, necessary transmission lines for the Nooksack Falls project occupy U.S. Forest Service lands.  By law, this triggers the federal FERC licensing process, which gives the public an opportunity to participate in resource decisions and mitigation measures.


"FERC must weigh the costs and benefits of the project when issuing a license," said Connie Kelleher of American Rivers.  "Now that we can start the licensing process, we can work toward making sure that enough environmental measures are in place to protect the river."


The conservation groups plan to request a clarification in the decision to ensure that the project stops operating until it can be licensed, as required by the Federal Power Act and normally enforced by FERC.


For more information about the conservation groups, please visit their websites at:


American Whitewater,

Northwest Ecosystem Alliance,

American Rivers,


For a copy of the order, please contact us or email

Associated Projects

Nooksack Stewardship (WA)

Public access, hydropower development, and resource stewardship are all ongoing issues on this river system.

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