FERC Denies Flaming Gorge Pumpback Request for Re-Hearing!
Green River, WY - On May 17th, FERC denied a request from WyCo Power and Water for a re-hearing of it's preliminary Permit application for the proposed Regional Watershed Supply Project (Project No. 14263-001). FERC's order has defeated the permitting process for the speculative project which proposed to pump 250,000 acre-feet of water from the Green River, to Colorado's Front Range cities over 500 miles away. American Whitewater and several of our partners in the conservation community worked hard to defeat the proposal presented to FERC.
On September 1, 2011, Wyco filed a preliminary permit application to study the Regional Watershed Supply Project. This project would involve a Trans-basin transfer of water from the Green River Basin in Wyoming, through a proposed 501-mile-long pipeline to a proposed reservoir near Pueblo, Colorado, for municipal and agricultural uses. The project also would include seven hydropower projects along the length of the water conveyance pipeline, including two pumped storage projects and five in-pipeline turbines.
On October 5, 2011, Commission staff requested that Wyco correct deficiencies in its permit application and submit additional information. American Whitewater, American Rivers, and Colorado River Outfitters had earlier requested in a joint letter, that FERC address a series of deficiencies in WyCo's application. As presented in its application, Wyco’s proposed project boundary included the entire 501-mile-long pipeline from the Green River in Wyoming to Pueblo, Colorado, as well as the seven proposed hydropower projects.
Commission staff’s October 5 letter directed Wyco to revise its process schedule for the pre-filing integrated licensing process because Wyco’s proposed schedule provided only six months to consult with participants and to conduct technical studies after submission of the pre-application document, which was not realistic for hydropower developments that would rely on a water conveyance pipeline that had not yet been constructed. Commission staff clarified to Wyco that because the Commission would only license the proposed hydropower developments, which are discrete components of the 501-mile-long water conveyance pipeline, construction of substantial portions of the overall project may require authorization from other federal agencies. In addition, Commission staff asked Wyco to identify the federal lands impacted by the Regional Watershed Supply Project and to prepare a separate map identifying the locations of the proposed hydropower facilities.
In response, on October 13, 2011, Wyco submitted a revised licensing process
schedule, and updated its maps to include the locations of its proposed hydropower developments and the federal lands impacted by the Regional Watershed Supply Project.
On October 18, 2011, Commission staff accepted Wyco’s permit application and
issued public notice of the application. In response to the public notice, over 200
comments expressly opposing the proposed project were submitted by the Governor of Wyoming, state agencies, counties, municipalities, water conservation districts, utilities, environmental or resource advocacy groups including American Whitewater, and individuals.
On February 23, 2012, Commission staff dismissed Wyco’s permit application.
The February 23 Order found that Wyco’s application proposed to study seven hydropower projects that are exclusively dependent on water from a proposed water conveyance pipeline that does not currently exist, and Wyco had failed to present information about its progress in obtaining the necessary authorizations for construction of the pipeline. Given the complexity of seeking a multitude of authorizations for a pipeline that would cross federal, state, county, and private lands, and the additional time required to actually construct such a substantial project, the February 23 Order dismissed Wyco’s permit application as premature.
The February 23 Order explained that until the water conveyance system is actually built,
authorizations have been obtained for a specific route, or the process to identify a specific
route has been substantially completed, Wyco would likely be unable to prepare license
applications for the seven proposed
hydropower projects during the term of a three-year permit. Wyco states that its proposed project would occupy lands managed by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s (Interior) Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) and Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. A review of the maps submitted by Wyco indicates that the proposed pipeline also crosses lands managed by Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service.
On March 23, 2012, Wyco requested rehearing and clarification of the February 23 Order, arguing that Commission staff erred in dismissing the permit application. Several Environmental and Conservation groups, not including American Whitewater, submitted answers to Wyco’s request for rehearing. The answers oppose the request for rehearing and Wyco’s proposed project. FERC will not permit the answers because the Commission’s Rules of Practice and Procedure do not allow answers to a request for rehearing, and the answers repeat comments in opposition to the project submitted by the entities in the permit proceeding.
The Commission is not required to grant a permit application, so long as it articulates a rational basis for not issuing the permit. The Commission could issue a preliminary permit for the discrete hydropower projects along the water conveyance pipeline that Wyco has proposed. However, under the facts of this case, FERC does not believe it would be good policy to do so.
FERC agrees with it's staff’s conclusion that it is premature to issue Wyco a preliminary permit for its seven proposed hydropower developments, at least until more concrete information regarding the authorization of the water conveyance pipeline is available.