License Denied for New Dam on Bear River (ID)

posted June 18, 2016
by Thomas O'Keefe

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This week the Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioned (FERC) issued a final order denying a license for the Twin Lakes Canal Company’s proposal to build a 109-foot-tall hydroelectric dam on the Bear River in southeast Idaho. American Whitewater and our partners have worked diligently for over 14 years to protect the Oneida Narrows section of the Bear River, and we’re celebrating this final decision, which will keep this section of river freely flowing! 
The Oneida Narrows reach of the Bear River is well known to paddlers as a beautiful class I/II float trip suitable for beginner and intermediate kayakers, canoeists, and rafters. The reach of river is distinct from other sections of the Bear in many ways, including offering moderate whitewater, open canyon scenery, and daily summer flows that support whitewater paddling. It is a recreational treasure that the proposed hydropower project would destroy. The area also attracts visitors for other recreation opportunities, including fishing, hiking and camping. The river here provides important habitat for the native Bonneville Cutthroat Trout, and the area is home to 48 state-designated sensitive species.
Twin Lakes Canal Company proposed to build the new dam within a river reach that has recently been restored through the removal of another dam in 2006. The Cove Dam removal was part of the Settlement Agreement for the relicensing of the Bear River Hydropower Project, which is owned and operated by PacifiCorp. American Whitewater was a signatory to this Settlement Agreement, which also included improved flows for aquatic resources and recreation opportunities. Twin Lakes’ proposed project threatened to jeopardize the Settlement Agreement and inundate newly-restored habitat and destroy a beautiful section of river.
In December of 2014 American Whitewater and Idaho Rivers jointly filed a motion before FERC in protest of the proposed Bear River Narrows Hydroelectric Project on the grounds that the project would materially interfere with the substantial mitigation completed by PacifiCorp for their existing project on the Bear River, the developer does not possess and lacks the ability to secure the required water right to operate this proposed project, and the Northwest Power and Conservation Council has established the reach as a protected area from hydropower development. Last fall, FERC published an Environmental Impact Statement recommending that a license be denied. In their environmental review they agreed that the Oneida Narrows section of the Bear River represents a regionally unique and important river recreational resource that would be destroyed by the proposed dam, for which mitigation is not possible. 
This week’s order denying the license marks the final decision for the project. FERC Commissioners state, “while we recognize the potential benefits of the Bear River Narrows Project, we conclude, consistent with staff’s findings, that the project’s unmitigatable adverse impacts outweigh its benefits such that we must deny the application.” 
FERC cited numerous reasons for denying the license. In addition to unavoidably altering the whitewater and other recreation opportunities in the area, FERC also found that the dam would have negatively impacted land and aquatic species, and that the proposed project ran counter to numerous state, regional and federal comprehensive plans for the river. 
Thomas O'Keefe
3537 NE 87th St.
Seattle, WA 98115
Phone: 425-417-9012

Associated Projects

  • Bear River Restoration (ID)
    Hydropower relicensing on the Bear River offered an opportunity to restore aquatic resources and recreational opportunities on this river.

Associated Rivers