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AW Appeals a Bad Decision in New York

Posted: 02/03/2012
by Kevin Colburn

High Falls Gorge of the Saranac River is a short and stout section of waterfalls that is typically dewatered by a hydropower dam and diversion.  While you may not aspire to paddling this challenging river, the contested relicensing process for the dam blocking the river could affect many of your treasured dam release rivers in New York and beyond.

The power company (NYSEG), often with the strong backing of the New York Dept. of Environmental Conservation (NYDEC) has asserted that:

  • Naturally variable flows such as small pulses are bad for rivers, and such flows should be prohibited without any need for biological studies.
  • If no paddlers happen to be seen paddling a de-watered river, then there is no demand for paddling the river, and no need to study demand.

Obviously, both of these opinions are patently false.  Rivers benefit from the restoration of natural flow dynamics, and counting paddlers at a dry river is not a rational method for estimating demand. 

Late last year the power company asked FERC to foreclose all opportunities for potential pulse flows for the next 34 years based on these beliefs.  AW objected to this request.  The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), who had previously responsibly argued for scientific studies and recreational mitigation,  sided with the power company without any explanation.  When AW sought to formally appeal FERC's decision as unlawful, FERC refused to consider our appeal because of a minor proceedural glitch in our appeal.  Earlier this week, AW fixed the glitch, and resubmitted our appeal. 

At issue in this case is the basic need to use the best available science to inform rational and transparent decision-making, and the importance of keeping the public involved in river management decisions that last generations.  The Saranac River case is in many ways the worst case scenario of relying upon bad information to make bad decisions that in this case threatens to leave a river nearly dry, and virtually impossible to paddle. 

The process for restoring some ecological and recreational functions to the Saranac River, and for confirming basic scientific and procedural standards for decision-making, is nearing an end.  Following a decade of advocacy, AW's appeal filed this week is likely our last possible request of the FERC to do the right thing for the Saranac, quite possibly other rivers, and the public.  

You can read our recent procedural appeal here, which asks FERC to formally re-consider our previously rejected issue-based appeal.

Associated Projects

Saranac River (NY)
AW used dam relicensing to advocate for land conservation, instream flows, and public access.

Associated Rivers

Saranac NY