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Protecting Whitewater Releases Under State Water Quality Standards

Posted: 02/02/2021
By: Bob Nasdor

Clean water advocates are buoyed by the recent Executive Order, issued on the first day of the new Biden administration, revoking a prior executive order that resulted in regulations limiting the ability of states to require that hydropower dams meet state water quality standards. The new Executive Order (Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis issued January 20, 2021) revokes Executive Order 13868 (promoting Energy Infrastructure and Economic Growth issued April 10, 2019) that began a rulemaking process under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. We are actively working to encourage the administration to begin a new rulemaking process that would rescind the recent EPA Section 401 regulations and restore the vital role of states in protecting our rivers.


The Federal Power Act requires that hydropower projects seeking federal licenses first obtain certification from the state that its generation will meet state water quality standards. Recent EPA regulations that went into effect on September 11, 2020 limit the ability of states to prevent hydropower dams from harming aquatic habitat, recreation, and other resources. These new regulations seek to undermine landmark Supreme Court decisions affirming the critical role of states in protecting water quality at federally-licensed energy projects.


American Whitewater is spearheading efforts to protect our rivers from harmful impacts from hydropower dams through advocating for measures that protect aquatic habitat and recreation opportunities including scheduled whitewater boating releases on scores of iconic whitewater runs. These efforts have resulted in healthier rivers with sufficient flow and public access throughout the 30 to 50-year license term.


AW, along with other environmental advocates, Tribes, and 21 states and territories, filed suit against the Environmental Protection Agency in July, challenging the new regulations under the Clean Water Act and other laws. Industry groups, including the National Hydropower Association, joined the EPA in defending the new regulations. The EPA is currently in the process of reviewing the recent 401 regulations and we expect that it will seek to restore the critical role of the states in protecting our rivers from harmful effects of hydropower dams.


Bob Nasdor

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