After years of planning, studying and down-to-the-wire negotiations, a settlement was signed on January 29th for the Upper American River Project and the Chili Bar Project. The settlement agreement signed by American Whitewater will breathe new life into the American River. The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) who operates the Upper American River Project along with Pacific Gas and Electric’s Chili Bar Project have agreed to increase flows in the South Fork American River and tributaries effected by these projects. Dave Steindorf, California Stewardship Director for American Whitewater, stated, “This agreement is a monumental step forward in the operation of these Projects”. “Fish, paddlers, anglers, and reservoir recreationist have a lot to be happy about in this agreement.” With ten reservoirs, eight powerhouses, and over fifty miles of effected river, this Hydropower Project is one of the most complicated in the country. Additionally, the flows from Chili Bar Project create one of the most important commercial whitewater recreation resources in California. For the first time, flows below Chili Bar will be scheduled as part of the FERC license. Funds will also be made available to improve and maintain facilities along the 28 miles of river below Chili Bar Powerhouse. This agreement will bring boating flows to the Slab Creek Reach of the South Fork American River, the Ice House Reach of South Fork Silver Creek and a reliable flow schedule to the South Fork American River below Chili Bar Dam. This agreement will also do a great deal to help restore this watershed by increasing base flows and mandating pulse flows to restore these rivers’ natural processes. Look for these new flows to begin in 2008.
The next step in this lengthy process will the environmental review process that will be conducted first by FERC and then by the State Water Resources Control Board. While there are no guarantees as to how long this will take, most stakeholders hope that FERC’s review will be completed in 2007 and hopefully the Water Boards review will be complete sometime in 2008.
Partners in this settlement include two utilities, Sacramento Municipal Utility District’s (SMUD) and Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), an array of state and federal agencies including, US Forrest Service, California State Water Resources Control Board, California Department of Fish and Game and the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Signatories also included several members of the California Hydropower Reform Coalition, which is a collection of river advocacy groups. The Hydropower Reform Coalition works hard to improve the efficiency and establish environmental protections on hydropower projects in California. These have included, California Sport fishing Protection Alliance, Friends of the River, California Outdoors, and Foothills Conservancy, in addition to American Whitewater. Several private boaters and Bill Center from the American River Association were also key players in this process.
“ By going back and negotiating their fundamental interest, this group was able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat” said Steindorf. “It is easy in these processes to get caught up in what you think is fair rather than focus on what you need”. Because of this agreement and the improvements for the river, SMUD and PG&E will have a clean reliable supply of power for their customers for the next thirty to fifty years