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AW Intervenes in Proposed Hydropower Project in Dolores River basin

Posted: 02/17/2012
By: Nathan Fey

Dolores, Colorado - This week, American Whitewater filed a Motion to Intervene in the Preliminary Permit application for the Cortez Pumped Storage Project , with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The project would be located on Plateau Creek, near the town of Dolores, Colorado and affects streamflows in the Dolores River basin and federal lands administered by the Forest Service (San Juan National Forest).

In December 2011, INCA Engineers, Inc., in Bellevue, Washington, filed an application for a preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to study the feasibility of the Cortez Pumped Storage Project (FERC P-14328-000).  The sole purpose of a preliminary permit, if issued, is to grant the permit holder priority to file a license application during the permit term (36 months).  A preliminary permit does not authorize the permit holder to perform any land-disturbing activities or otherwise enter upon lands or waters owned by others without the owners’ express permission. 

During the term of the preliminary permit period, technical, economic, and environmental studies will be conducted to determine the feasibility of the project. The studies will consist of both office and field investigations to refine preliminary dimensions, project arrangement, operating parameters, costs and environmental or institutional constraints.

The cost to conduct the studies and investigations outlined in the preliminary application is estimated to range between $2,000,000 and $3,000,000. This cost will be borne by the Applicant and private investors. The Applicant’s Study Plan, under the preliminary permit, will generally consist of the following:
1. Consult and work with state, federal and local resource agencies, tribes and nongovernmental organizations that have interest in the project's development.
2. Evaluate potential and unavoidable project impacts to environmental resources.
3. Analyze the benefits and costs of alternative sizes, locations, alignments and materials to the major project facilities.
4. More fully develop the project arrangement.
5. Obtain permission to access project lands for conducting studies, and begin negotiations to use such lands for project purposes. All project lands are currently federally owned.
6. Conduct power operation studies.
7. Evaluate power sales and power purchase options.
8. Conduct additional studies of the flow in Plateau Creek.
9. Conduct geotechnical and geological investigations of the proposed Upper and Plateau Dam sites following consultation with appropriate resource agencies.

On February 16th, 2012, American Whitewater was granted party status to the FERC permitting process.  We are concerned with the impacts to flow regimes in the Dolores River watershed, as well as environmental and recreational impacts from additional water-supply related facilities development in the basin. For this reason, American Whitewater has Intervened in the Preliminary Permit. Our immediate concerns include:

- Impacts to Dolores River Project obligations, outlined under the 1977 FES for McPhee Dam,

- Impacts to native fish populations in Plateau Creek,

- Impacts to water quality in Plateau Creek and the Dolores River from high salinity content in affected lands,

- Changes in spring run-off and streamflows due to additional upstream storage capacity,

- Implications to the Wild & Scenic Values of Plateau Creek,

- Impacts to base-flows in the Lower Dolores due to additional storage upstream of McPhee Reservoir,

- Impacts to annual operating plans for McPhee Dam, and effects on streamflow forecasting and whitewater boating in the Dolores River.


The proposed Cortez Pumped Storage Project would consist of the following new facilities:  

(1) an upper reservoir, located on Dry Creek mesa west of Plateau Creek, formed by a 130-foot-high by 6,500-foot-long dam, with a total storage capacity of 8,000 acre-feet and a water surface area of 275 acres at  full pool elevation;

(2) a lower reservoir, located in Plateau Creek Canyon, formed by a 270-foot-high by 800-foot-long dam, having a total storage capacity of 9,500 acre-feet and a water surface area of 200 acres at full pool elevation;

(3) two 15-foot-diameter steel consisting of a surface penstock, a vertical shaft and an inclined tunnel;

(4) two 27-foot-diameter tunnels that would be 850-feet-long;

(5) an underground powerhouse containing two reversible pump-turbines totaling 500 megawatts of generating capacity; and

(6) a 7-mile-long, 230 kilovolt (kV) transmission line that would connect from the switchyard with an existing 230 kV interconnection east of the project area. 

Field studies, tests, and other activities to be conducted under the Preliminary Permit would include topographic mapping, geologic/geotechnical investigations, streamflow data collection in Plateau Creek, and surveys to support various environmental resource studies for preparation of a license application. Disturbances to land or water would be minor, and any such disturbance or alteration would be adequately restored in accordance with local ordinances, and State and Federal laws.


Colorado Stewardship Director

Nathan Fey

1601 Longs Peak Ave.

Longmont, CO 80501

Phone: 303-859-8601
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Dolores River (CO)

American Whitewater is working to conserve and restore a dynamic, healthy Dolores River by leveraging recreational water needs to enhance and support in-stream flows.

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