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Thermal curtain may still be in Lake Almanor’s future

M. Kate West
Chester Editor
1/4/2011

After what have been several years of silence well noted by Plumas County officials and the grassroots Save Lake Almanor Committee, the California State Water Resources Control Board has communicated through an end-of-year release of a Level 3 Report involving temperature control alternatives that may impact Lake Almanor.

This September 2009 report is the third installment of reports and contains analysis of temperature control alternatives advanced from the Level 2 Report that addresses a stated need to meet water quality requirements and protect cold freshwater habitat along the North Fork Feather River.

The report, which can be found on the official Plumas County website (plumascounty.us/civicalerts) should not be misconstrued as the long-awaited Environmental Impact Report (EIR), which was originally anticipated for release in April 2006 and again in October 2006. As of this date, it still has not been released.

The need for the EIR was first announced in September 2005 during a public scoping hearing on the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) process for water usage at Lake Almanor hosted by the state water board in Chester.

The three primary water uses planned for review during the state board’s CEQA process are recreation, power generation and water temperature as deemed necessary by the agency when the Pacific Gas and Electric Co. submitted an application the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the relicensing of the Upper North Fork Feather River Project 2105.

Procedurally, before such a license could be issued to PG&E, the company had to obtain a Clean Water Act Section 401 water quality certification from the state water board.

During the scoping process, the state board determined that portions of the North Fork do not meet the water quality objective for temperature as set forth in their Water Quality Control Plan for the Central Valley Region, also known as the “Basin Plan.”

In the executive summary of the Level 3 Report the state board said a determination was made “that elevated water temperatures are impairing the cold freshwater habitat beneficial use of the Forth Fork Feather River,” which may or may not mean the agency is continuing to seek to lower downstream temperatures through the use of a thermal curtain on Lake Almanor.

The 2009 report does state that the water board is in the process of preparing an EIR that “includes water temperature reduction proposals which are designed to achieve compliance with Basin Plan objectives.”

Despite the release of the report, the state board’s potential purpose for doing so remains unknown, according to Plumas County District 3 Supervisor Sherrie Thrall.

“Although they refuse to even discuss it, I believe they sent it to us as a heads-up to what they are thinking,” she said.

The report contains more than 260 pages of technical text, graphs and maps — certainly not light reading for even the most informed.

Thrall said copies of the report have been sent to former Plumas County Public Works director Tom Hunter and to Brian Morris, both of whom have been heavily involved in the PG&E 2105 relicensing project from the ground floor.

She also said local consultant Leah Wills had additionally been provided a copy and said each was “wading their way through the report” and would be offering their interpretations to the Board of Supervisors.

Thrall said the state water board has, in the past, attributed much of the EIR delay to state budget and personnel cuts.

“They now have staff on board and we are hoping the EIR will be out in the spring. The county has already written a letter requesting the comment period be extended to 120 days. (The state board) has said they would entertain the possibility of 90 days,” she said.

Wendi Durkin, who chairs the Save Lake Almanor effort, is also reviewing the report and plans to make public comment in the near future.

 


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