Proposed Yuba River hydroelectric dam raises concerns over fish

The Sacramento BeeAugust 16, 2012 

A Canadian company's surprise proposal to build a hydroelectric generation facility on the Yuba River has raised alarm among government agencies and nonprofits working to restore salmon runs on the river.

Archon Energy of Calgary, in a July 18 application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, proposes to build a 3-megawatt energy generation facility adjacent to Daguerre Point Dam. The company seeks an expedited approval process, and its 18-page application states that no new studies of environmental effects are needed.

The National Marine Fisheries Service "strongly disagrees with this view" in an early comment letter submitted on the project. It notes, among other things, that the project could divert nearly 90 percent of the river's flow around the dam, potentially dewatering the riverbed in places and disrupting plans for new fish ladders.

"The Yuba salmon run is one of the last and strongest wild salmon runs in the Central Valley of California," said John Regan, president of the South Yuba River Citizens League. "To not have that reflected in a proposal like this is, frankly, staggering."

Daguerre Point Dam, which is owned and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, is one of the oldest and most dysfunctional dams on a mainstream river in the Central Valley. It was built in 1906 for the single purpose of holding sediment washed out of the Sierra Nevada by historic gold mining practices. It has no flood-control or direct water supply function, and has long been targeted for removal to improve salmon and sturgeon habitat. It is north of Beale Air Force Base.

Paul Grist, president of Archon Energy, said the project will not alter Daguerre Point Dam but would be built alongside it and would divert a portion of the river's flow around the dam.

Grist called the project "eco-friendly and fish-friendly" because it would use a new hydroelectric generation technology called an Archimedes screw turbine. This turbine, he said, allows downstream fish passage and can generate energy at very low flows.

Archon has never built such a project but is working closely with the turbine manufacturer, he said.

If risks to fish emerge as the project is reviewed, Grist said Archon would consider installing fish screens, and may also consider building a new fish ladder at the dam. The project is also compatible with removal of the dam, he said.

"Really, our main goal here is to introduce this new, next-generation hydroelectric technology to California and the United States," said Grist.

He said the company plans to propose similar projects at other California locations "in the coming weeks," but he declined to say where.

According to its website, Archon wants to be a diversified renewable energy producer "dedicated to finding suitable controlled water way sites in California, Arizona and Hawaii."

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service