Feather River’s Too Hot, Group Claims

     CHICO, Calif. (CN) – The South Feather Water and Power Agency ignored evidence that changes in water management may be raising the temperature in the south fork of the Feather River, where threatened species live, water contractors claim in Butte County Court.
     State Water Contractors sued the South Feather Water and Power Agency, claiming that relicensing the South Feather Power Project violates the California Environmental Quality Act.
     The plaintiff is a nonprofit association of 27 public agencies that buy water from the State Water Project. It claims the defendant agency renewed the license without an environmental impact report, and ignored evidence that releases of water in September, October and drought years violate state law regulating water temperature, according to the complaint.
     Releases from the Kelly Ridge Powerhouse facility, in particular, are too warm to sustain designated critical habitats of steelhead and Chinook salmon and proposed critical habitat of green sturgeon, downstream, according to the complaint.
     To mitigate the rise in temperature, the water contractors would have to discharge water from the Oroville Reservoir. This would be unsustainable, since at some point, releases would not be able to lower the water temperature sufficiently, the group says. Excessive discharges also eventually may affect the drinking water of the 25 million Californians the agency serves, the group says.
     The water temperature issue stems from state “protection, mitigation and enhancement measures, which include water management changes, environmental protection and recreational improvements,” according to the petition.
     The complaint states: “SFWPA violated CEQA by failing to prepare an EIR for the Project despite substantial evidence in the record before it that [Kelley Ridge] discharges may have a significant adverse effect on water temperatures in the Diversion Pool and the lower Feather River. Despite this evidence and based on a flawed Initial Study and Environmental Checklist SWFPA improperly adopted a Mitigated Negative Declaration that failed to include any measures that would adequately avoid or mitigate any significant adverse effects of [Kelley Ridge] discharges on water temperatures.”
     The agency’s decisions relied on a flawed 2007 study, the “Stillwater 2007 Report.”
     The State of California Department of Water Resources studied the water temperature in 2008, and found that a diversion pool that feeds the salmon hatchery downstream of the Kelly Ridge facility was “heated as much as 12 degrees by the addition of flow from [Kelley Ridge].”
     “Despite the substantial evidence submitted by DWR, SFWPA still refused to conduct further environmental review. Rather, SFWPA performed another simplistic assessment of temperature impacts, essentially repeating the errors in the Stillwater 2007 Report, and never conducted a thorough analysis of the studies by DWR or undertaking the full environmental review required by CEQA,” the complaint states.
     The water contractors want the negative declaration voided, an environmental impact report prepared and proper mitigation measures and a mitigation reporting or monitoring program adopted, and attorney’s fees.
     They are represented by Thomas Berliner with Duane Morris in San Francisco.

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