article photo 1

FERC Grants Hydro License for Dam on West Rosebud Creek (MT)

Posted: 12/17/2007
By: Kevin Colburn

Today, FERC issued a new 40 year license for the operation of the Mystic Lake Hydroelectric Project on West Rosebud Creek, near Fishtail Montana.  The issuance of the license marks the completion of the first ever Integrated Licensing Process (ILP).  The ILP was designed with input from the Hydropower Reform Coalition and the hydro industry with the goal of increasing the efficiency and role of the public in the daunting 6-year dam relicensing process.  American Whitewater and Beartooth Paddlers were the only non-government organizations that participated in this landmark process. 

The FERC license was issued early, which is not exactly normal. "The timeliness of today's decision proves the effectiveness of the new integrated Licensing Process," FERC Chairman Joseph T. Kelliher said.  "I commend all the parties involved for their commitment to the process."  

American Whitewater worked closely with Ron Lodders and Ian McIntosh of Beartooth Paddlers on this relicensing for the past several years.  Together, we attended meetings, conducted flow studies, and filed comments seeking mitigation of the project's impacts on whitewater boating.  As the FERC license recognized, "Current project operations affect whitewater boating downstream of the project by delaying whitewater flows, reducing the peak hydrograph, and decreasing the number of days with optimal whitewater flows."

We worked collaboratively with the dam owner (PPL Montana) as well as with state and federal agencies to determine ways of tweaking project operations to benefit paddlers.  The first thing we agreed upon was the need for a new flow gage downstream of the project's dams, which was installed in October of 2006.  We then agreed to develop a whitewater flow plan to improve whitewater boating opportunities.  The license concurs that the plan will "(1) use information from the new U.S. Geological Survey gage to refine whitewater flow targets; (2) set a target number of days for whitewater flow releases; (3) use adaptive management to refine these targets; and (4) contain a process for annually consulting with the agencies and stakeholders."  The Forest Service's mandatory 4(e) Condition #11 also requires these measures.

Working together we have discovered that opportunities exist to slightly increase the stream flows using a re-regulation dam in a manner that simulates natural diurnal snowmelt patterns in the region.  These small flow bumps provide boating opportunities when there otherwise would be none - at a very low cost to the power company.  With the new gage in place, and thanks to paddlers participating in ongoing flow studies, we have a good idea of what flow targets need to be.  We are confident that in the coming years we will continue to expand ecologically sensitive whitewater boating flows on West Rosebud Creek. 

We would like to first and foremost thank Ian and Ron who were absolutely critical to the success of this project.  The new ILP process relies heavily on local participation, making participation by clubs and volunteers all the more important.  We would also like to recognize the commitment and creativity that PPL Montana, the US Forest Service, and Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks brought to this project.  Over the next few years we will be working together to draft the Whitewater Flow Plan which is due in 2011, and are confident that this process will be productive - and fun for paddlers who will get to enjoy our trials in the interim years.  After that, the flows will continue for 40 years!  

Kevin Colburn

Asheville, NC

Full Profile

Associated Projects

West Rosebud (MT)

AW is working with Beartooth Paddlers on the relicensing of the Mystic Lake Hydroelectric Project on West Rosebud Creek


Final License for The Mystic Lake Hydroelectric Project (12/17/2007)

This document is the final license for the Mystic Lake Hydro Project located on Montana's West Rosebud Creek. The license will take effect in January of 2010 and last for 40 years.

Join AW and support river stewardship nationwide!