Public comment sought on Truckee River dam project | SierraSun.com

Public comment sought on Truckee River dam project

Sally J. Taylor
--Doug SlaterThe Farad Power Plant could be churning out electricity again if Sierra Pacific Power Company's proposal to rebuild the Farad Diversion Dam on the Truckee River is approved.
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Sierra Pacific Power Company’s proposal to rebuild the Farad Diversion Dam is meeting resistance from anglers and boaters despite extensive plans to minimize the impact.

For nearly 100 years until the New Year’s flood of 1997, the dam near Floriston diverted water two miles downstream to he Farad Power Plant. Today, all that is left of the dam is a concrete foundation on each bank and an idle power plant.

With power needs near critical, Sierra Pacific would like to get the energy flowing again. It’s estimated that the diversion project could generate 2.6 megawatts of power, enough to power to about 1,600 homes.

“Overall, it’s just going to be a much more environmental friendly structure (than the previous dam) with the added benefit that it’s designed to generate power,” said Karen Foster, public relations manager for Sierra Pacific.

The dam reincarnation, as proposed by the power company, would include boater passage and a protage area for boaters, improved debris management and much better provisions for fish.

“This structure will be a lot more fish friendly,” Foster said.

Meanwhile, with more than four years to enjoy the unrestricted flow of the Truckee River, boaters, anglers and wildlife authorities are not enthused at the prospect of another dam.

On Friday, the California State Water Resources Control Board will hear public comments on the project’s environmental impact report. Two meetings will be held at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. at the Truckee City Council Chambers. Written comments will be accepted until May 13.

About 200 people have already sent written comments, most questioning the need for a dam.

“The whole point (of the comment process) is to determine whether the mitigation measures are adequate,” said Russ Kanz, environmental scientist with the State Water Resources Control Board.

“The big issues are the impacts to fishery and white water boating. Silt, is insignificant (from the completed dam, according to research), but there will be some impacts during construction.”

Ralph Cutter, owner of California School of Fly Fishing, appreciates the detailed measures in the plan to minimize habitat damage, but is concerned about Sierra Pacific’s operations track record.

“If it were operated correctly, they could get their power and the Truckee wouldn’t be damaged too severely,” said Cutter, who has snorkeled the river since 1975, observing and filming the impact of the previous dam.

He describes the difference between the upstream environment and downstream from the dam as “going from a rainforest to the Sahara Desert.”

Of most concern is the level of water allowed to continue flowing over the dam, but also the speed the flow is changed. Too fast a flow reduction – which is more economical – and fish and the water insects that fish eat become stranded.

“There’s nothing healthy about this dam, it’s flat out bad for the environment. But there’s a when people need to do things to get what people need,” he said, acknowledging the need for electricity.

The California Department of Fish and Game also considers a dam less than desirable. But they have chosen to work with Sierra Pacific. Because the power company has water right entitlement to divert up to 400 cubic feet per second of water, the dam project in some form will most likely be approved, according to Fish and Game fisheries biologist John Hiscox.

“We’ve been involved with it all along the way, participating in the design especially for the fish screen and passage,” Hiscox said. “We are satisfied with the fish screen design and the fish passage structures.”

The department considers Sierra Pacific’s plan sufficient to maintain the current populations of rainbow and brown trout and does not consider the dam an impediment to its reintroduction of the Lahontan cutthroat trout.

Hiscox said the design should be adequate for all but the lowest drought flow.

The plan includes:

* An adjustable-crest diversion structure and boat/debris chute

* Intake structure

* Diversion conduit

* Roughened channels for fish passage

* Fine-plate fish screen and return

* Access roads and recreational portage

* Slope stabilization

* Restoration plantings

After May 14, when public comment will close, the water board will study the comments and consider whether the proposal meets the requirements of the Clean Water Act. A decision would most likely come at the end of the summer.

From there, the plan must also go before other regulatory bodies including the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, which has some jurisdiction in the construction permitting process.

According to Sierra Pacific’s Foster, the fastest track could see the dam completed in late 2003, but the approval process is so involved, it could take much longer.

The entire Farad Diversion Dam environmental impact statement can be found on the Web at http://www.waterrights.ca.gov.

Written comments should be addressed to Russ kanz, State Water Resources Control Board, Division of Water Rights, P.O. Box 2000, Sacramento, CA 95812.