Opinion Columns & Blogs

Commentary: Relicensing our dams

Many in Merced County know the Merced Irrigation District owns and operates the Merced River Hydroelectric Project, which include Lakes McClure and McSwain, the dams and hydroelectric powerhouses associated with them.

This license and its conditions are overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.

MID was issued the original license in 1964, which permitted MID to develop the project to generate hydroelectric power. The license expires in 2014.

FERC typically issues new licenses for a period of 30 to 50 years and the overall relicensing process follows an established, highly regimented schedule of 5 to 5½ years once it begins.

Since this is an intense and complex process, most FERC license holders begin planning and preparing several years in advance.

The MID began its planning efforts in earnest in 2005 and filed its notice of intent and preliminary application document with the FERC in November 2008.

We are now in the process of developing study plans that are designed to identify the effect of the project on resources and assist in developing possible mitigation for effects of the project.

A total of 23 separate study plans have been proposed in the MID's filing with the FERC and it is probable more may be added. So, the question may be asked why is this important to our region?

Hydropower, which is generated at New Exchequer Dam, is the nation's leading source of green, renewable energy.

Hydropower produces 98 percent of the nation's renewable energy production.

For us, this means limited dependence on foreign energy sources. In addition, hydro projects provide public benefits including recreation areas, such as lakes and campgrounds, fish and wildlife enhancements, water supply, river flood control and irrigation.

Located downstream of Yosemite National Park, Lake McClure and Lake McSwain offer camping, fishing and boating activities for families.

Both lakes were built to serve as reservoirs for the New Exchequer Dam.

With 80 miles of shoreline at Lake McClure and more than seven miles of fishing area at Lake McSwain, they provide family fun for all ages.

The licensing process has changed considerably since 1964. FERC now requires significant consideration be given to energy conservation, water quality and supply, the protection of the environment and economic considerations, all of which have local public benefits.

During this process the use of the resources affected by a project is reassessed. Equal consideration is given to both power and nonpower uses.

MID, FERC, state and federal regulatory agencies, nongovernmental agencies and other interested participants play an important role in the process.

Participation by all of these parties allows the public interest to be served. It assures the license addresses impacts to fish and wildlife resources, recreation and water quality as determined by the FERC. MID will be diligent during the process to protect its interests as well as balance the needs of the environment.

Protecting the environment and participating in water and energy efficiency initiatives is of paramount importance to the future of MID, the region and you.

As we move forward with the relicensing effort, it is vital the community understands how it affects our region and how it affects the lives of our citizens.

As longtime stewards of this valuable resource, MID has been serving the public's interest for 90 years. We take these resources and responsibilities seriously.

A Web site of the relicensing activities may be found at www.merced-relicensing.com.

Dan Pope is the new general manager of the Merced Irrigation District.