Groups file complaints against hebgen dam malfunction

January 9, 2022

Montana Economy

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BOZEMAN – A citizen complaint was filed against NorthWestern Energy for a malfunction of the Hebgen lake dam in December 2021.

The Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) said dam owner Northwestern Energy in Butte should be held responsible for the incident. The environmental group is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to demand that Northwestern pay for an independent investigation into the dam’s malfunction. The incident reduced the flow of water to the Madison River by 57% in fifteen minutes.

MEIC says the federal agency should consider creating a fund to support ecological restoration projects on the river and a long-term watershed impact study.

The MEIC was joined in the complaint by Upper Missouri Waterkeeper and the Madison River Foundation.

Northwestern Energy told MTN that it completed a $ 40 million modernization of the dam in 2018 and has already submitted a report to FERC.

From MEIC:

BOZEMAN, MT – Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, Montana Environmental Information Center, and Madison River Foundation have filed a citizen complaint [uppermissouriwaterkeeper.org] Jan. 5, 2022, with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding NorthWestern Energy’s failure to meet the Hebgen Dam license conditions that resulted in the Nov. 30 dewatering on the Upper Madison River.

“This formal complaint is the way to hold NorthWestern Energy accountable for its dam failure, a thorough third party investigation of the impacts, and targeted action to restore the integrity of the river and downstream communities,” Guy said. Alsentzer, executive director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. . “Two significant flow cuts in fifteen years at the northwestern Hebgen Dam are sounding the alarm for additional monitoring and redundancy needed to protect the river’s ecology and downstream economies that directly depend on stable outflows. “

NorthWestern Energy, owner and operator of the dam under Federal Permit No. P-2188, issued by FERC, violated two permit conditions when the valve well ruptured and significantly reduced outflows from the Hebgen Reservoir . The provisions violated were (1) to maintain a continuous minimum flow of 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) at USGS No. 6-388 near the Kirby Ranch, and (2) to limit flow changes from the Hebgen Dam to no more than 10% per day throughout the year. The USGS gauge located at the Hebgen Dam measured the outflow from 648 cfs to 278 cfs in 15 minutes (a 57% reduction) and a maximum reduction to 216 cfs (a 67% reduction) in a period of 24 time . Likewise, Madison River flows fell below the item 403 low of 600 cfs at Kirby Ranch, eventually falling to 395 cfs.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, the Montana Environmental Information Center, and the Madison River Foundation are calling on FERC to require Northwestern Energy to fund a full third-party investigation into the malfunction and hold the licensee accountable for taking action to ensure that this tragedy is an isolated event. .

“As a utility, NorthWestern Energy must be held accountable for the mismanagement of Montana’s natural resources, especially our water,” said Derf Johnson, lawyer and director of clean water at MEIC. “NorthWestern must cooperate fully with a full and transparent investigation, mitigate the impacts on the environment, the community and the economy, take action to ensure this does not happen again and pay to resolve the issue out of the pockets of its shareholders.” . “

If the FERC determines that there are good reasons to investigate, the complaint will trigger a formal process, overseen by the FERC, investigating the failure of the dam and the adequacy of Northwestern’s oversight and failures of the dam. equipment that led to one of Montana’s most famous blue ribbon trout streams drying up during critical spawning season. Another outcome could be the creation of targeted funding to support ecological restoration projects and help affected stakeholders downstream.

“We are committed to our members, the Montanans and the Madison River, to protect its vital flows and to be responsible stewards of maintaining a healthy watershed,” said Jonathan Malovich, Executive Director of the Madison River Foundation. “This is just a step in the right direction for many more to come to change the way we can all protect and manage the water that flows along the Madison River.”

Because the long-term ecological and economic impacts of the draining of the Hebgen Dam on the Upper Madison River may remain unknown for years to come, it is essential that a formal, non-partisan process asks these questions and seeks lasting solutions. right now. The filing of the complaint is separate from the ongoing public correspondence in late December 2021 between Northwestern Energy and FERC regarding the Upper Madison Dam failure and is specifically focused on addressing ecological degradation.

From ENO:

An investigation is underway into the failure of the Hebgen dam valve on November 30.

Since taking possession of 11 dams in Montana in 2014, NorthWestern Energy has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the system. These investments increased production capacity, improved fish passage through the dam system, modernized infrastructure and provided more recreational opportunities. This investment includes a $ 40 million upgrade to the Hebgen Dam completed in 2018.

On November 30, a component of a gate of the Hebgen dam – installed in 2015 during the upgrade project – failed.

NorthWestern Energy has submitted reports to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the failure and, in conjunction with our Federal Regulatory Agency and others, is taking deliberate steps to ensure a thorough analysis of the gate component. The analysis, based on sound engineering principles, will be used to understand why this relatively new part failed and to establish corrective actions.

NorthWestern Energy will also work with resource agency biologists and others to develop scientific studies to assess its effects on fishing.

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