Merced Irrigation District must redo 2 studies

MERCED — The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has decided the Merced Irrigation District must reverse course and redo some parts of its environmental impact studies along the Merced River before receiving a new license for its hydroelectric operations there.

The decision was handed down Tuesday by Jeff C. Wright, director of the Office of Energy Projects.

Wright's decision could be characterized as a blow to the irrigation district, which hoped to limit environmental review to just the district's immediate footprint, and a minor victory for environmentalists who pushed for a broader examination of the effects downstream from the dam.

In the final stop in a drawn-out dispute process, Wright decided the irrigation district must change two of the environmental studies by expanding their geographic scope to Shaffer Bridge, nearly 30 miles downstream. Wright also ruled the district must complete four of the studies a second time and create two new studies with PG&E.

The first new study would look at each company's share of sediment downstream. The second would study water flows downstream of the Exchequer Dam — the irrigation district's hydroelectric plant — and Merced Falls — PG&E's power plant.

A copy of the decision was sent to Geoff Rabone, deputy general manager of the Merced Irrigation District. The district must file, for the energy commission's approval, a plan for completing the two studies within 44 days.