Posts Tagged ‘bureau of reclamation’

House approves controversial hydropower bill

Posted on: March 8th, 2012 by The American Independent No Comments

The House approved U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton’s bill to streamline small hydropower development processes for canals and ditches today. (more…)

White House escalates $1 billion planned New Mexico water complex

Posted on: October 11th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

The Obama administration today selected a Northern New Mexico water reclamation project as one of a handful of infrastructure public works endeavors to undergo an expedited permit process in the hopes it will lead to faster job growth. (more…)

Tipton promises jobs from streamlining small hydro in Colorado

Posted on: September 23rd, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

A hydropower bill that U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton introduced this month is intended to create clean energy jobs, but the director of the state chapter of American Rivers says the legislation badly misses the mark.

“I don’t know how much it helps hydropower developers. More than anything, it’s another example of Republican House members looking for any way they can to attack this nation’s bedrock environmental laws and regulations, in this case NEPA (the National Environmental Policy Act),” Matt Rice, conservation director at American Rivers Colorado, said in a recent interview with The Colorado Independent.

H.R. 2842 would provide blanket authorization for installation of small hydropower on all U.S. Bureau of Reclamation canals and conduits. It also would require the Bureau of Reclamation to offer preference to water user organizations for the development of such projects under a federal lease of power privilege. Further, the bill would exempt small canal and conduit projects of less than 1.5 megawatts from the environmental assessment requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.

Waiving the powers of NEPA for small-scale hydro, in Rice’s view, “actually creates an incentive for developers to deliberately build underpowered projects in order to avoid the environmental review.”

Developers already can exempt low-impact hydropower projects through either the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, opponents of the bill have noted.

In fact, that was the point Bureau of Reclamation Deputy Commissioner of Operations David Murillo made to the House Subcommittee on Water and Power last week. While the Bureau of Reclamation supports much of the bill’s goals, it opposes exempting 1.5-megawatt projects from NEPA reviews.

“The department understands the intent of H.R. 2842 to be that conduits and canals are existing man-made structures where environmental impacts associated with construction have already occurred or been mitigated,” he said. “However, the department’s view is that low-impact hydropower, particularly in conduits and canals, can be efficiently developed by utilizing existing environmental review provisions that will not unduly delay project development and ensure environmental health and safety.”

National Hydropower Association spokesman Matt Nocella said his organization has not taken a position on H.R. 2842 yet but is “currently evaluating and discussing it with our membership.”

The bill, however, is galvanizing support from those who want to slash as much red tape as possible.

At last week’s hearing, Robert Lynch testified on behalf of the Irrigation and Electrical Districts Association of Arizona and the National Water Resources Association, saying untapped water potential is typified by a Department of Energy report that found 1,400 megawatts of unused capacity in canals and ditches in Colorado where units of less than 5 megawatts could be installed. Lynch said the total of the small units is comparable to the 1,312-megawatts Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River.

“At a time when our country needs to focus on domestic energy production and job creation, hydropower can play a critical role in providing clean renewable energy while expanding job opportunities in rural America,” Tipton said.

Detractors of Tipton’s bill say the environmental reviews for small hydro projects by the Bureau of Reclamation aren’t as onerous as some people have made them out to be, but Chris Treese of the Colorado River Conservation District and Family Farm Alliance maintains development uncertainties can get in the way of districts and developers making timely investment decisions.

“Environmental reviews under NEPA are universally time-consuming and expensive,” Treese said. “Even ‘just an Environmental Assessment’ will require considerable time and expense. The river district’s current experience with an EA on a non-construction action has taken over a year and nearly $1 million in outside expenses, not including substantial ‘unbillable’ district time and expense.”

Still, given that exemptions already exist for low-impact projects and that proposed NEPA exclusions would not encourage efficient power output, Rice says there are better reforms on which to focus.

“It’s not always clear whether the developer needs to apply for a FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) license or a Bureau of Reclamation lease of power purchase,” Rice said. “While Reclamation and FERC have a memorandum of understanding, it’s a case-by-case determination and, as we know, determinations take time so if they were to come up with a real clear process, that would be a lot more valuable way to more quickly develop Bureau of Reclamation hydropower projects.”

One of the best existing programs for streamlining small-scale hydropower projects can be found in Tipton’s home state of Colorado, Rice said.

A memorandum of understanding (PDF) between the state and FERC, enacted last year under former Gov. Bill Ritter, authorizes exemptions for conduits and projects under 5 megawatts that are added to existing infrastructure and meet the criteria clearly spelled out in a number of environmental safeguards.

“There already is a model,” Rice said. “From our perspective, Colorado’s program is the type we like.”

Salazar’s climate change report signals rough times ahead for the western U.S.

Posted on: April 25th, 2011 by The American Independent No Comments

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today released a report that assesses climate change risks and how these risks could impact water operations, hydropower, flood control and fish and wildlife in the western United States. The report to Congress, prepared by Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, represents the first consistent and coordinated assessment of risks to future water supplies across eight major Reclamation river basins, including the Colorado, Rio Grande and Missouri river basins.

“Water is the lifeblood of our communities, rural and urban economies, and our environment,” Salazar said in a press release. “… small changes in water supplies or the timing of precipitation can have a big impact on all of us. This report provides the foundation for understanding the long-term impacts of climate change on Western water supplies and will help us identify and implement appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies for sustainable water resource management.”

The report, which responds to requirements under the SECURE Water Act of 2009, shows several increased risks to western United States water resources during the 21st century. Specific projections include:

· a temperature increase of 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit;

· a precipitation increase over the northwestern and north-central portions of the western United States and a decrease over the southwestern and south-central areas;

· a decrease for almost all of the April 1st snowpack, a standard benchmark measurement used to project river basin runoff; and

· an 8 to 20 percent decrease in average annual stream flow in several river basins, including the Colorado, the Rio Grande, and the San Joaquin.

The report notes that projected changes in temperature and precipitation are likely to impact the timing and quantity of stream flows in all western basins, which could impact water available to farms and cities, hydropower generation, fish and wildlife, and other uses such as recreation.

“Impacts to water are on the leading edge of global climate change, and these changes pose a significant challenge and risk to adequate water supplies, which are critical for the health, economy, and ecology of the United States,” added Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor.

Reclamation is implementing actions to mitigate and adapt to changing climate, the release said. For example, at Hoover Dam, new wide head range turbines are being installed that will allow more efficient power generation over a wider range of lake levels than existing turbines.

To develop the report, Reclamation used original research and a literature synthesis of existing peer-reviewed studies. Projections of future temperature and precipitation are based on multiple climate models and various projections of future greenhouse gas emissions, technological advancements, and global population estimates. Reclamation will develop future reports to Congress under the authorities of the SECURE Water Act that will build upon the level of information currently available and the rapidly developing science to address how changes in supply and demands will impact water management.

The Bureau of Reclamation is the largest wholesaler of water in the country, providing water to more than 31 million people and to one out of five Western farmers for irrigation of more than 10 million acres of farmland. Reclamation is also the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the western United States with 58 power plants generating nearly a billion dollars in power revenues each year and producing enough electricity to serve 3.5 million homes.