Vinita – The Grand River Dam Authority’s request for a variance from mandated Grand Lake elevations, sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in March, is receiving strong support from two United States Senators.
On May 20, United States Senators Jim Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) and Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) sent FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff a letter supporting GRDA’s request. Senator Wyden, who has been an advocate for hydroelectric power across the United States, is the Chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over FERC.
FERC issues GRDA its license to operate the Pensacola Project (Pensacola Dam and Grand Lake) and that license contains a seasonal rule curve that mandates holding Grand Lake at certain elevations at different times of the year. The license also calls for a three-foot lowering of the lake’s elevation each August in order to seed millet around the lake shore.
In their letter to FERC, Inhofe and Wyden wrote that the Grand Lake “rule curve in the existing license requires lake elevations to be decreased in August from 744 to 741 feet for millet seeding intended to benefit waterfowl and other wildlife. Unfortunately, the benefits to wildlife from this measure are questionable for many reasons.”
Throughout its history, the success of the seeding effort has been questioned many times and the Senators pointed out that adverse effects may outweigh the benefits. “The negative impacts on other public values of lowering the lake for this purpose are extensive and undisputed,” wrote Inhofe and Wyden. A committee of state and federal agencies has previously recommended that the millet seeding program be discontinued in lieu of adjacent site mitigation along the Neosho River west of Miami.
The Senators also requested that FERC grant GRDA the variance no later than June 30, 2013, while also requesting that the Commission consider approving a variance that runs through the end of GRDA’s current license to operate the Pensacola Project (2022).
“Going through an annual rule curve level proceeding every year between now and 2022, when the 30-year term of the current project license expires, is very wasteful and costly, particularly when a relicensing process – that will no doubt deal with the lake level issue – will formally begin within the next few years,” wrote the Senators.
In years like 2011 and 2012, when drought conditions linger and GRDA must also address dissolved oxygen issues and other lake management concerns, a variance that runs through the end of the license would also aid the Authority’s long-term planning and reduce the costs associated with annual variance applications, added GRDA Chief Executive Officer/Director of Investments Dan Sullivan.
“I am thankful for the efforts of Senator Inhofe in addressing Grand Lake water issues,” said Sullivan. “His effort in working on this important issue with Chairman Wyden has demonstrated a bipartisan request to FERC to look for a more long standing solution. We are hopeful that this letter will result in a rule curve that adequately addresses all requirements and provides a framework toward our next re-licensure process. The proven track record of our rule curve variance last year demonstrates that an adaptive approach in conjunction with communication with all stakeholders provides very good results.
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