Beaverhead Hydro Project: Water Quality Cert. Comment Period Open to July 5th – Act Now!

Montana DEQ’s draft 401 water quality certification for the Clark Canyon Hydro Project doesn’t do enough to protect the Beaverhead’s water quality or the local fishery.

Everyone who cares about the Beaverhead has the right to submit comment to our state regulators, telling them to use their full power to protect downstream water quality and fish.

Whatever terms DEQ sets in its certification are automatically incorporated into the ultimate hydropower license – scroll down to take action now and Stand Up for the Beaverhead!

Anyone interested in providing comments concerning DEQ’s proposed §401 Water Quality Certification has 30 days – until July 5th, 2016 – to send their thoughts to DEQ.

At the bottom of this page we’ve provided two ways for you to tell DEQ to Protect the Beaverhead.

The Issue

Any applicant for a federal license to conduct any activity resulting in a discharge to local waterways  – such as a license for a new hydropower facility – triggers a State’s authority under Section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) to condition that activity to protect local rivers and water quality.

Here, we have a proposal to retrofit Clark Canyon Dam – essentially the headwaters of the Beaverhead River – into a hydroelectric facility, a Project that triggers Montana’s 401 certification authority.  Why? Because hydropower discharges water that can cause big water quality and fisheries problems on rivers and, likewise, old dams like Clark Canyon create other water quality problems downstream.

  • Click here for more background on the Hydroelectric Proposal
  • Click here to learn more about recent algae pollution events on the Beaverhead.

Montana DEQ’s draft 401 certification doesn’t do enough to protect the Beaverhead’s water quality or the local fishery.  Although the draft talks about some impacts, and reserves the authority to take action in the future, DEQ has mandatory duty to use its 401 authority to ensure the Project will not degrade the river; it cannot wait to exercise its authority at some unknown point in the future.

The draft 401 certification doesn’t address the following specific issues, all of which are critical to protecting the Beaverhead, fish, and the local communities and jobs it supports:

  • Illegally Narrow Scope:  DEQ’s draft 401 certification is only looking at water quality impacts that may arise from adding hydropower turbines to Clark Canyon Dam, instead of also looking at river impacts caused by the larger dam and reservoir.
    • Hydroelectric projects cannot be separated from the dams which make them possible.  DEQ must issue a 401 certification that addresses the bigger picture of water quality and fisheries impacts caused by both hydroelectric turbines & Clark Canyon Dam itself.  This is particularly important because the Dam – and how it is currently operated – is directly affecting water quality and fishing in the Beaverhead River.
  • No Adaptive Management Plan:  DEQ failed to require an adaptive management plan up-front in its draft 401 certification.  Clark Canyon Dam and the new Hydro Project bring up a host of river, fishery, and water quality problems.
    • Science is pretty clear on what types of protections need to be in place for certain hydroelectric concerns (like Dissolved Oxygen and Total Dissolved Gas levels), but science isn’t totally clear on what actions need to be taken to address recent years dam-related huge algae blooms and turbidity events.
    • The Solution: DEQ’s final 401 certification must require an adaptive management plan that spells out what steps will be taken to address known river threats, to answer outstanding scientific questions and, by a date certain, mandate operational or infrastructural changes necessary to stopping dam-related degradation of the downstream Beaverhead River. DEQ must revise its draft certification to include an adaptive management plan and re-publish it for a second public comment period.

The Big Picture is simple: the state of Montana must condition the Project in a manner that ensures downstream water quality and fisheries are protected.  It cannot pick and choose which issues it would like to address, nor can it reserve authority to take action later “IF” needed.  When science is clear on the threats to downstream water quality and fish, the law requires a 401 certification to impose necessary protections up-front.

The best way to protect the Beaverhead, while also being fair to the applicant and giving agencies time to develop emerging scientific solutions, is to require a mandatory adaptive management plan in a final 401 water quality certification.  DEQ must revise its draft 401 water quality certification to include a detailed adaptive management plan and reissue for public comment.

CLICK HERE to view DEQ’s draft, weak 401 water quality certification.

Beaverhead River Pollution Event Sept. 2015

Take Action Before July 5th 2016:

Your comments to DEQ are critical to ensuring any final hydropower license contains science-based conditions that protect the river, fisheries, and important local economies!

Please take 10 minutes, do Two Easy Steps to send DEQ a letter, then Sign the Petition.

(1) Submit a Comment to DEQ:

  • STEP ONE:   CLICK HERE to download a draft comment letter outlining the issues DEQ needs to address in its 401 certification. Please consider personalizing your letter!
  • STEP TWO:   CLICK HERE to send your letter to DEQ. This hyperlink will prompt your mail server and automatically address an email to DEQ.
    • If the link doesn’t work, simply open a new email and type in the following address: “”.
    • In the subject line write “Public Comment on Clark Canyon Hydro 401 Certification,” and in the email body repeat that you are submitting public comment on the draft 401 certification.
    • Now, make sure to attach your letter, then hit send!

(2) Click Here to Sign the Petition!