The Department of Health and Environmental Control Board recently decided to hear appeals by two environmental groups challenging the permits issued by DHEC to Duke energy to operate five dams on the Catawba and Wateree Rivers. The hearing is scheduled for July 9 and will involve American Rivers and the Coastal Conservation League. The environmental groups are concerned that the flow requirement Duke Energy has proposed will only give South Carolina 25 percent of the water coming down the Catawba-Wateree and that will be inadequate for fish and wildlife as well as people who use the river. Duke spokesman Andy Thompson counters that the agreement under the new license is an actual upgrade from the current system.”We’ll actually release more water on a continuous basis under this new license than our current operations. This means there will be greater fish habitat, improved recreation, better water quality. A more balanced approach will provide more water for cites that need it for drinking water, water intakes, industrial uses, just a wide range of uses.”
Thompson says the new comprehensive relicensing agreement is a culmination of extensive work over a a three year period with the participation of 85 stakeholders including the two challenging parties. Thompson says 70 of the stakeholders, which includes towns and cities along the river, signed off on the agreement.
Members of the Coastal Conservation League have expressed concern that the agreement Duke Energy has secured says that the amount of water released from the dams is not predicated on seasonal conditions. Some environmentalists say the water release should be variable considering that the amount of rainfall varies depending on the time and season of the year. Thompson says Duke Energy uses a system call a “low inflow protocol” which the 70 stakeholders signed off on and has a proven track record of effectiveness.
“That basically set parameters on how we would operate our lake releases, how we would use our lakes for generation so that we would have enough water available for drinking and other uses during the period of drought. As a result of this procedure that we developed and put in place, no water intake was uncovered and we got through the worse drought in this region’s history in very good shape.”
Some environmentalists have expressed concern that the amount of water released from the dams would be inadequate for certain forms of fish and wildlife especially the federally endangered shortnose sturgeon. Thompson says according to recent studies, sturgeon have not existed in the river in quite some time if ever.
“The South Carolina Marine Resources Research Institute, with support from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and the National Marine Fishery Services, prepared a document in 1997 and they could not show any sign of sturgeon in the Wateree River going back as far as 1896, so we really don’t believe that’s an issue.
The environmental groups charge that in its re-licensing agreement Duke Energy has dealt with the state in an exchange of minimum water flows with some protection of some areas of shore land along the river. Thompson says Duke Energy has developed, along with its stakeholders, a balanced plan to provide the energy that is needed for a growing population while maintaining the quality of life of the region.
“We have people who have signed on with our agreement like the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, the South Carolina Department of Recreation and Tourism, the South Carolina Wildlife Federation, and towns up and down the Catawba-Wateree River. This has been a monumental effort that has focused on the balanced use of these rivers so we can meet the needs of stakeholders up and down the Catawba River.”