Idaho water managers this week filed an application for a preliminary permit with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. The state's Water Resource Board continues to study the feasibility of building a new dam on the Weiser River.
The Galloway Dam Site would include a 40-60 megawatt hydropower plant. The project would be located 13.5 miles upstream of the confluence of the Weiser and Snake rivers.
The filing for a preliminary permit is part of the FERC licensing process. Cynthia Bridge-Clark is an engineer with Idaho’s Department of Water Resources. She says the FERC permit allows prospective applicants for a hydropower license to take years to study whether a project makes sense.
"The FERC preliminary permit allows the applicant to pursue feasibility-type studies for three years with an option for a two year extension,” Bridge-Clark says. “So we actually need to gather a fair amount of information within those five years."
That information will be necessary if the state actually pursues a hydropower license in the future. Bridge-Clark says the gathering of information right now consists of “high level” studies.
The state water department says a new dam on the Wesier River is being evaluated on several possible benefits, including increased water supply, hydropower, flood control, recreation and salmon recovery.
The state legislature provided funding for further study during this year's session. Bridge-Clark says other studies have been underway in recent years, following a 2008 legislative directive to study more storage options across the state. She says some of that data may be available in the next few months.
Experts studied the same area extensively in the 1980s and early 90s before deciding not to pursue a major project.
“We are looking at a significant window of time since those studies were completed and certain aspects about the project have changed,” Bridge-Clark says. “As we’re studying it today, [the project] would be operated very differently than it was in those 1980s studies.”
Bridge-Clark says that means the data cultivated 25 years ago is at least partially obsolete.
“To some people it looks like [the studies] are being redone, but they really are different approaches with different science behind it and different technology available.”
New dam construction is a controversial topic in the West. Bridge-Clark says her department plans to keep the public informed of its studies and their results. FERC’s process for reviewing the state’s permit application includes an opportunity for public comment.
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