Federal Water Tap, October 13: Large Dam Proposed for Alaska

A private company has filed paperwork to prepare plans for a large hydroelectric dam in Alaska.

Glacial Energy LLC, based in Wasilla, Alaska, is seeking a preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a 113-meter (370-foot) high dam on the Talkeetna River, some 177 kilometers (110 miles) north of Anchorage. The permit allows the applicant to claim the first spot in line for building a dam in that location, and it allows the company to conduct technical and environmental studies. The permit does not allow for any construction. The studies are estimated to cost $US 3 million to $US 5 million over three years, according to the application.

For such a large plug of concrete, the dam would produce little electricity – an estimated 311 gigawatt-hours from 75 megawatts of installed capacity. The reservoir created by the dam would stretch 32 kilometers (20 miles). The five public comments filed with FERC so far have all opposed the project.

While the rest of the country is starting to tear down dams, Alaska is leaning the opposite direction. A much larger dam, just north of the Talkeetna, is also in the FERC permitting process. The Susitna-Watana hydroelectric project is a 224-meter (735-foot) dam on the Susitna River with a 600-megawatt capacity. If approved, it would be the largest dam built in the United States since the 1960s and would provide half the electricity for the Railbelt, Alaska’s most populous region.

Supreme Court Case
The nation’s highest court will hear oral arguments Tuesday between Kansas and Nebraska over the Republican River, the second water dispute between the two to reach the nine justices. Kansas claims that it did not receive all the water it should have in 2005 and 2006 because farmers in Nebraska pumped too much from underground sources, thus causing the river to dwindle, a violation of a water-sharing compact.

A court-appointed “special master” issued a report on the case last year, siding mostly with Nebraska and arguing that the state had changed its groundwater policies. The court will decide whether to endorse the recommendations, which would alter a settlement signed in 2003 after the first lawsuit. Kansas does not want the alterations.

SCOTUS blog offers a detailed though jargon-filled summary of the arguments that each side will make, as well as a history of the water-sharing compact in question.

Colorado River Conservation
The Bureau of Reclamation began accepting proposals for projects that would reduce demand for Colorado River water. Water users in Arizona, California, and Nevada are eligible to apply. The conserved water will remain in Lake Mead, which is hovering just above the level that would trigger the basin’s first-ever water restrictions.

Money for the projects will come from a $US 11 million fund created earlier this year by the basin’s four largest municipal water providers and the Bureau of Reclamation. Proposals are being accepted from all sectors – agriculture, industry, and urban utilities.

Colorado Water Storage
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a plan that will increase the amount of water stored for irrigation, industrial, and municipal use in a reservoir 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Denver. The dam will not be raised; rather, space that had been left empty in case of floods will now hold water, increasing water levels by 3.7 meters (12 feet). That will make available an average of 8,500 acre-feet of water per year while not increasing flood risk, according to the project review. The Audubon Society of Greater Denver has filed a complaint because 10 percent of a popular state park will be flooded to hold the extra water.

Secretary Kerry on Climate
Calling the planetary disruptions caused by rising greenhouse gas emissions a “gathering storm,” Secretary of State John Kerry promised to put climate change at the center of international diplomacy.

Writing on the State Department’s blog, Kerry cited U.S. military leaders to argue that the threat of rising seas, warmer temperatures, and longer droughts should worry government leaders across the globe. Noting the march in New York City in September, he urged the public to keep pressure on elected officials.

“Speak out,” Kerry wrote.” Make your message echo in every city on Earth. Make this an issue that no public official can ignore another day. Make a transition toward clean energy – through smart investments – the inevitable, not the impossible.”

Defense Department on Climate
In response to President Obama’s executive order, the Defense Department released its “roadmap” for adapting to climate change. Shifts in weather patterns and higher temperatures will alter the U.S. military’s missions, its training, and the operation of its bases, according to the 20-page document.

“These climate trends will clearly have implications for our militaries,” said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, speaking today to a conference of defense ministers from the Americas. “A higher tempo and intensity of natural disasters could demand more support for our civil authorities, and more humanitarian assistance and relief. Our coastal installations could be vulnerable to rising shorelines and flooding, and extreme weather could impair our training ranges, supply chains, and critical equipment. Our militaries’ readiness could be tested, and our capabilities could be stressed.”

Liquefied Natural Gas
Two proposed export terminals for liquefied natural gas will undergo environmental reviews. One would be located along the east bank of the Mississippi River in southern Louisiana. The other is a proposal by Downeast Liquefaction LLC to build a terminal on the Maine coast.

Waters of the United States
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has extended the deadline for public comments on its controversial proposal to define what waters are regulated by the Clean Water Act. Comments are now due November 14. They can be submitted at www.regulations.gov using docket number No. EPA–HQ–OW–2011–0880 or they can be emailed to ow-docket@epa.gov using the docket number in the subject line.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

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