Skip to comments.Grey Davis' Mess
Posted on 06/24/2005 1:35:48 PM PDT by Mom of Two Soldiers
West Valley hydro plan creates problems
Distraught residents and landowners made emotional statements and fired critical questions during two intense scoping meetings held at the Likely fire hall last week, voicing their opposition to the proposed hydroelectric power project in West Valley, east of Likely on the South Fork of the Pit River
Federal Energy Resource Commission (FERC) staff members conducted the meetings to gather public opinion regarding the future project.
As proposed, the project would consist of two small hydroelectric turbine generators, one located near the West Valley Reservoir dam and the other near the Jess Valley highway at the bottom of the canyon where Short Creek spills into the South Fork. Both plants, with a combined output of about 2600 kilowatts-enough to power about 2,000 average homes-would use water diverted from the South Fork River by an existing canal owned and operated by the South Fork Irrigation District (SFID)
Nick Josten, the engineer who filed an application for the power plant with FERC in 2003, was on hand for both meetings to present a slide presentation about the project and to field questions. "I think hydropower is a wonderful source of energy. It's not without impacts, but it's a perfectly clean source of energy," he declares. The outspoken opponents are approximately six families who live along the river or own land in the canyon and the Hammawi Tribe of Native Americans, which has joined them in their opposition. These critics decry the lack of information they have been given about the project and the proposed water diversion.
"There's clearly some information that has to be supplied," Josten acknowledges. "It's a lot of things gone over many times in many different words, but the number of actual issues isn't that big. The answer to those issues is information.
"And so the first step after this meeting is to try and collect that information-that's going to be my responsibility-and to give that information to the people that are asking for it and to make sure they understand it and believe it."
The opponents' primary concern is the diversion of 100 cubic feet of water per second from the river, leaving about three miles of South Fork with dramatically reduced stream flows. That water would then be returned to the river at its confluence with Short Creek. Gail Griffith, one of the affected residents, is adamant in her opposition to diverting water from the river. "I don't like it. I know from being on that river that there isn't enough water to sustain (a power plant)."
After speaking with Josten, she was not dissuaded. "He assured me that he did a feasibility study," Griffith reports. "I asked him to please re-look at it again, to come out in July and August and examine the river with me. He said É those were the months they would not produce electricity."
Clearly frustrated, Griffith reiterates, "I see the river every day, I live on the river (and) I walk the river. They believe it's feasible. I'm trying to tell them it's not."
Objections also focused on the project's potential impact on property values, stream flows, fish and wildlife habitat, water turbidity and noise. "If it happens, the river will dry up pretty well. I don't like it because the habitat would be destroyed," emphasizes Griffith, citing a litany of dire environmental impacts if the project is realized. Linda Bruzzone, another landowner along the impacted portion of the river, is equally distraught at the prospect of losing water in the river. She spells out a detailed analysis of water flows to demonstrate that the river will virtually cease to exist if the proposed project goes through. "We are totally opposed to the project because we believe that that preserved area É is deeply in jeopardy."
Emotionally distraught, Bruzzone tearfully relates that she and her husband feel that their dream will be shattered if the power plant becomes a reality. "We love our property. It was our dream. It was our future. We feel awful; we feel terrible. Everything we've ever worked for is at risk. We put our entire retirement investment into Modoc County."
An engineer and owner of GeoSense, an Idaho-based consulting firm for small power projects, Josten is not surprised by the reaction. "This is normal for any project that proposes to divert additional water."
In spite of the objections, Josten is upbeat. "I think that it can be done in a responsible way. I'm a fisherman, a backpacker and a member of Trout Unlimited. I know what these folks are thinking about. And I think that I'm inclined to do it in a more responsible way than some people who might develop this resource
"The real question is: What will change? How can any negative impacts associated with (this project) be minimized so that this is acceptable-and it can be-as a compromise between groups of people that want to use the resource?"
Patricia Cantrall, county supervisor for the district, candidly says, "I'm for the project." She hopes that the "few who live on the river that are against it will come around to the right way of thinking." Cantrall believes that opponents' charges of hidden agendas and backroom deals to benefit the owners of Alturas Ranches, the county's largest agricultural enterprise, and the owners of South Fork Irrigation District, which controls all the water rights in this project, are misplaced, misleading and shortsighted
"Yes, you may have six families along the river," she explains. "But (consider) also, Alturas Ranches-no matter who it's owned by or where they live-and all the people that work for them from here to Alturas, which are all in my district. The county of Modoc benefits from Alturas Ranches and anything it does like this to enhance the river
"You need to look beyond," Cantrall continues, "and you need to look down the road for the next 20 years. Who's going to feed America?" Only after a number of required reviews, analysis and an environmental assessment are completed will FERC be ready to decide whether or not to allow the project to move forward. The earliest the decision can be expected is June of 2006.
Under Federal Energy Regulation Commission Application P-12053, Nicholas Josten of Idaho filed an application to construct a hydroelectric plant upon the South Fork of the Pit River, located in rural Modoc County. This project proposes to generate electrical power for a maximum of 2200 households.
As partners, the South Fork Irrigation District of Likely, California and Barry Swenson of Alturas Ranches who is financing the studies and arranging for the financing of the million plus dollar project, propose to divert 100 cubic feet from a river that hardly runs 45 cubic per second during average years along a three mile stretch of scenic roadway that runs alongside Jess Valley Road. The river is home to the endangered red band trout and the project site is proposed to sit on a 31 acre piece of BLM property, situated between two private residences and in the midst if a small residential area.
Swenson, a multimillionaire Silicon Valley Builder and Land Developer, dba Green Valley Corporation, and a sixty percent stakeholder in the South Fork Irrigation District, owns much property in Santa Clara, Monterey, Marin, Alameda, Fresno, Contra Costa, San Joaquin, Yuba, Sutter, Sonoma and Modoc Counties and builds major hotels and commercial buildings. He started acquiring property in Modoc County in 1997.
Swenson's website indicates a philosophy: "Our vision is to work as a team wisely utilizing our land and resources. We will choose our projects focusing on urban in-fill sites, and building renovation being sensitive toward agriculture, green belts, and raw coastal land. Our intention is to stay connected to nature and community of the area we work and live in," however Swenson and his representatives have not discussed this matter with landowners despite promises to meet.
To facilitate the project, the developers propose to divert the water from the river through an existing South Fork Irrigation District Canal which is located within the heart of the Modoc National Forest and prior to entry into West Valley Reservoir, will transport the water through piping to the West Valley Reservoir Dam through two generators to be installed at that site. From there, they propose to spill the water down Short Creek, returning it into the Pit River, three miles downstream from where it was initially diverted. The water will not enter the West Valley Reservoir or raise its water tables as it is considered "renewable energy" and will bypass the Reservoir.
The proposal desires to leave five cubic feet per second within the three mile of river stretch, which is diverted with the exception of an eight-week period of time during the spring high rains. To mitigate swampy and drained areas, they propose to dredge the river to facilitate a man made canal approximately three and one half feet to five feet in width to accommodate fish life, which will replace the fifteen to thirty feet wide expanses of the river.
The intended diverted areas include the open, scenic areas which can be seen by the road and will dramatically change the landscape of the area as well as the native fish habitat, especially in the rolling meadow area owned by private property owners, including land which has been preserved by a local property owner for community recreational use and areas that have historical and cultural value as Hammawi Indian Tribe hunting sites.
An initial study was contracted by the developers to a consultant who was asked by Fish and Game to conduct a study of the river conditions during the migration of red band trout spawning and only during a certain time of the year, specifically spring, when the rains were highest. That study concluded fish could exist within 7.5 cfs of water however mentioned that there were barrier areas within the river through which they would be unable to pass. One of those areas was the large privately preserved meadow area along Jess Valley Road, which is privately owned and would essentially be drained. California Department of Fish and Game stipulated that 7.5 cfs was adequate to leave as a mandatory bypass within the river, based upon the limited study, though photographic evidence indicates this is not feasible in that stretch of the river.
The man made canal in place of a river will eliminate fly fishing in that stretch of the river especially within the wide public accessible stretches of the river. Contact with the Department of Fish and Game and the Developer as how to facilitate the 7.5 cfs within the river, included discussions of how to alter the lands of the private property owners in order to make it feasible, including how to fund the alterations with state public funds and using state public resources.
The developers feel the private land owners have development opportunities upon the river and are offering to build a bridge across the river in order to avoid land depreciation as a result of the project. Property owners do not wish development upon that particular part of the parcels and intend to preserve this only open stretch upon the river. Currently, one property owner is the process of establishing a conservation easement upon the property that would prohibit development upon their ownership of the riverfront property and would preserve it for the public for generations to come.
Currently, the only choices offered to property owners regarding the state of their properties is to accept drained, swampy land, a man made canal or to expend personal and financial resources to oppose the project to it's end.
Due to a 1934 agreement with the State of California, that mentions no bypass regulations, the South Fork Irrigation District has repeatedly stated that they have the right to drain the river of the water to acquire their 38 cubic feet per second diversion into the West Valley Reservoir from the months of November 1st through April 15th. This is facilitated at a steady rate, rather than an escalating rate when the spring rains create a strong flow in the river. The South Fork Irrigation District representatives have repeatedly stated they can drain the river at any given time due to their interpretation of that agreement.
That agreement with the State of California which was post 1914 had no mention of bypass regulation which makes it applicable to the conflicting California public trust laws which exist within Fish and Game Codes.
Those laws require all operators of dams to maintain a healthy fish environment in river areas around their dams. The Department of Fish and Game have the legislation to enforce these laws, however state they are reluctant to enforce the laws because local District Attorneys often will not charge the matters when brought before them. They state it is too financially costly to utilize the services of the California State Attorney General.
As a result, this year, during low rainfalls in February, the river was diverted to 1.5 cubic feet per second and reduced to a mud bed. Fish and aquatic life perished or went downstream. Photographs evidencing this can be viewed at: pictures which presents a photograph chronology of the river condition from July of 2004 through April l, 2005 and the effects upon the river as a result of the South Fork Irrigation District's irrigation diversion.
Subsequently, the Department of Fish and Game has taken no action regarding this nor intends to take any action, according to Redding, California Fish and Game officials. It is apparent they have not taken action in the past, as well, for on approximately 622 different days from 1940 to 2002, the river was diverted and drained below 5 cubic feet per second.
In 1982, this proposal was brought to the Federal Energy Regulation Commission by the South Fork Irrigation District to build this specific project, however, as with the Lassen County Municipal District and the Boise Ranchers project which occurred last month, it was determined to be infeasible due to high costs to produce the power and in the matter of Lassen County Municipal District, low demand for private electrical power at this time.
The South Fork Irrigation District abandoned the initial application, then reentered into a new application with Nicholas Josten of Geosense, of Twin Falls, Idaho, after he picked up the abandoned application in 2001.
The South Fork Irrigation District is not listed as a principal in the project within the FERC or State of California Water Resource Board applications despite the fact they are a public utility, subject to disclosure laws and compliance with the Brown Act. In November, they stated to a landowner, "We are glad the project is no longer ours and the other guy is doing it."
During a landowner meeting with the developers in April of this year, they admitted being principals in the project. They have met with governmental agencies in respect to this project and information regarding those meetings of the South Fork Irrigation District not noticed to landowners.
Though the State of California has no power shortage at this time and there is no grid infra-structure resources remaining to import surplus power to Southern California, Josten has no quantified agreements with any power company and has stated he will seek power buyers after the permit is issued stating he can sell the power out of state, if he cannot find a power supplier within the State of California. Federal "Purpa" laws require local power companies to purchase "green power" at higher costs and if enforced by the State of California, Modoc County residents could very well see a higher power cost if the Surprise Valley Electrification Corporation is required to purchase this power.
The economic benefit to the community is minimal, at this point. It is proposed to be installed on Federal public Bureau of Land Management and National Forest Land which will produce no tax assessments for the value of property owned, with the exception of the equipment to be installed, which is estimated by the developer to be $500,000. As the South Fork Irrigation District is considered a government entity, the portion of the project which is theirs is not taxable, only the portion belonging to the private partners. This tax initially equates to $5,000 a year maximum if the equipment is reported as belonging to the private partner and will decrease as the value of the equipment depreciates with age.
It is unlikely there will be any taxable revenue to the State from the project (the personal partner's share) until the million plus dollar project is paid for, due to depreciation and operational costs offsets and is further reduced due to the public entity status of the South Fork Irrigation District. Again, any revenues that go to the South Fork Irrigation District will not be taxable and most likely would be taxed by the State of California and not the County.
The revenue generated from this project appears to be less than the construction of the assessment of one home within this area, as the site for one of the power plants is scheduled to be constructed within an approximately 31 acres of BLM land which is sandwiched between private land parcels which are zoned for three acre residential parcels.
Conservation of the riverside of the properties is a major goal of the local landowners and development of the areas of the river that can be seen from County Road 64 is not an objective of the landowners. The intent is to leave the open areas of the river accessible for public use as they have been through generations.
If land values drop as a result of this project, then the project will cost the county revenue through lower assessed tax rates. One home is scheduled for construction within the diversion reach area, however the landowners are postponing building at this time to determine the ramifications of their project. This one home alone would bring the County $2,800 minimum, taxable revenue and in the future, property tax revenue for the installation of five fishing cabins (to be installed upon the road on the other side of the river) consistent room tax revenue and revenue to the local area through the use of community businesses by individuals who visit the small fishing village.
The project is planned to go through the National Forest campground at the Old Blue Lake Road, which may discourage sports camping and recreational hiking and fishing activity at that site. A significant concern is the possibility of mosquito egg laying in swampy areas of the riverbed though that could be mitigated at county cost through a mosquito abatement program.
The developers state they will hire one part time employee to conduct maintenance on the project, which will be facilitated through the South Fork Irrigation District. The plans for the plant are that it will be self automated. Therefore, any and all jobs as a result of this project will only be temporary during the initial construction, if the project hires local labor and doesn't use the already available resources of the developer, Barry Swenson, who owns his own commercial building company, which is familiar with the building of large projects. Most of the construction will require highly trained and skilled individuals and will be very technical in nature especially if blasting of explosives through rock are required to install the facilities.
Construction will require expanding the irrigation canal to facilitate 100 cubic feet per second of water to be diverted from the river. The canal has been poorly maintained through the years and has breached on several occasions, the last time in November of 2004, when sediment rolled from the breach into the South Fork, damaging water quality and destroying fish habitat.
Evidence of prior breaches are readily visible around the area of the diversion canal and indicate a direct trail into the riverbed.
The developers propose to line the canal with felt to avoid further breaches, though in their last repair of the November breach, lined the canal with viscquene.
Piping will be installed across the project line to the dam. Two metal sheds will facilitate generators and Francis turbine engines at both facilities. One will be located on Jess Valley Road and will be visible from the roadway at the site of the South Fork Irrigation Bridge.
The conditions of the river, as it is proposed around the Old Blue Lake Road, will be insufficient for fire fighting resources to be able to draw water from the river to protect local homes. Landowners who reside on the river have been denied small domestic use water permits in order to store water, to water drought-plagued vegetation and use water from the river for personal use due to the allocation being used up. This includes installing an infrastructure to protect them from fire.
The California State Water Resource Control Board has stated all allocations of water have been filled with the exceptions of the months of November through April, when the risk of fire is at its lowest.
The conditions of the river, at certain areas, including the meadow area, will be swampy and muddy unless the landowners concede their right to owning property on a river and allow the small man made canal be constructed. The swampy conditions will create health hazards and mosquito infestation, which would amplify the possibility for disease to both humans, wildlife and domestic animals. The developers have not addressed the human health hazards of their project.
High transmission wires that will be "raptor friendly" will be installed up the canyon leading from Jess Valley Road to the West Valley Reservoir. The definition of "raptor friendly" power lines is unknown as it was not specified by the developer in their plans
It should be noted the majority of residents who reside by the river are either of retirement age or intend their residences to be retirement homes and are individuals vulnerable to those problems.
Despite an ever-constant breeze that flows through the canyon area that amplifies and echoes sound through the canyon, the developers claim that sound from the turbine engines and generators will not be an issue and if it becomes an issue, they will insulate the metal shed after the construction.
The developers have argued this hydroelectric plant is necessary to protect fish habitat and needed to increase the amount of bypass flow to protect the natural resources, in accordance with the 1934 decision that has no bypass flow even though the SFID, as principals in this project could voluntarily follow California state laws and allow more inflow into the water during the irrigation diversion. It has been stated the project is needed to effectively and economically maintain their diversion canal as they don't currently have the financial resources to install screens and ladders on their current penstocks or felt lining at the bottom of their canal despite the fact they have filed for yet another large power project at the other end of the reservoir, the Moon Lake Project under FERC number P-12575 and have documented to the government they have the financial resources to build that multi million dollar project.
Their proposal to build the man made canal and conduct the riparian work includes funding and resources from state or federal government grants to facilitate the private project.
The project studies do address overgrazing of the riparian areas. Local residents will have to fence part of the river area as South Fork Irrigation Representatives advised they cannot control the grazing practices of their members upon the river.
The project will pay the irrigation costs of maintenance, water and a watermaster for the South Fork Irrigation District as the involved ranches now pay $1.53 an acre, yearly, for water and share a proportionate share of the costs of their own independent watermaster.
Landowners and local residents are protesting this project and have placed signs and banners up and down the canyon expressing their opposition toward the project, joined in their effort by Cal Trout, Northern California Council of Fly Fishers, Golden West Women Fly Fishers, The Anglers Committee, the Pit River Tribe and many individuals statewide.
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We are so tired of individuals accusing Republicans of not caring about the environment. We have yet to find one Republican who is supportive of this project.
These are photographs of the river when it is being diverted, at just a few cubic feet per second as the proposed levels.
I just hope they don't pull a Klamath.
Pulling a Klamath is exactly what is occurring. Both situations are tragic and have held government hostage for years as everyone is in for the natural resource, land and water grab.
Hopefully this decision will allow for both, conservation of the waters and the wildlife and for irrigation. Wanting it all is what is creating the problem.
The project documented is simply a tiny project and stated to be infeasible by many of the locals. It only points to the accelerated forms of abuse and more exacerbated issues as a result of the Klamath situation.
SAVE THE RIVER!
Please help us to save the beautiful South Fork of the Pit River in Modoc County, California.
Home to threatened and endangered species such as the bald eagle, the mountain lion, the wolverine, the redband trout, the Modoc sucker, agricultural interests have been draining the river, destroying the habitat.
Now, at levels shown on the website above (under more photos which show the devastation in a photo chronology,) they want to install a hydroelectric plant, draining almost three miles of river, most of which is on National Forest property.
Folks, we need letters from anybody and everybody addressing this travesty and opposing this project. Click on the website above or on the one indicated below, print out some flyers and get as many letters out as you can.
Be sure to make your comments specific to the situation of this particular, beautiful little river.
Let's save it for generations to come!
PUT YOUR COMMENTS ON HERE, AS WELL, TO LET US KNOW HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THIS OCCURRING.