Waterkeeper Appeals Weak Pollution Limits for Beaverhead Hydroelectric Project

For Immediate Release: September 1, 2016


Guy Alsentzer, Executive Director, 406.570.2202, Guy@UpperMissouriWaterkeeper.org

Wade Fellin, Program Director, 406.570.5850, Wade@UpperMissouriWaterkeeper.org

Waterkeeper Appeals Weak Pollution Limits for Beaverhead Hydroelectric Project

Dillon, MT – Today, Upper Missouri Waterkeeper filed an appeal of the Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality’s decision to issue a §401 Water Quality Certification for the proposed Clark Canyon Hydroelectric Project, the headwaters of the Beaverhead River, because the Certification fails to protect downstream water quality and valuable recreational opportunities.

“In licensing the proposed Clark Canyon Hydroelectric Project, DEQ cannot cherry-pick pollution issues at the expense of the Beaverhead River and the valuable local economy and tailwater fishery it supports,” said Guy Alsentzer, Executive Director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. “Instead of using strong science and its full legal authority to create a win-win management plan for all stakeholders and the Beaverhead, DEQ decided to pass the buck on addressing long-standing pollution issues that are destroying the public’s right to clean water and have largely shut down river recreation during late summer months,” said Wade Fellin, Program Director.

At issue is the nexus between management of Clark Canyon Dam and Reservoir, water quality struggles in the Beaverhead, and the proposal to retrofit Clark Canyon Dam as a hydropower facility. For three-years in a row the Upper Beaverhead has been unfishable for several summer months due to extreme turbidity and unnatural algal blooms, both related to Clark Canyon Dam and the Reservoir. During this same time the proposal to retrofit Clark Canyon Dam into a hydropower facility has gained momentum, a decision requiring a §401 water quality certification from the state.

401 Certification is a state pollution license designed to ensure a project and its activities are appropriately conditioned so that downstream water quality and uses – like fishing and swimming – are protected. Unfortunately, when push came to shove on the Beaverhead’s hydroelectric project, Montana DEQ issued a §401 Certification that only addressed certain pollution impacts, while ignoring others. This is both against the law and an irrational approach to managing a shared, public trust resource.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper refuses to accept poor river conditions, the decline of one of Montana’s best fisheries, and harm to local citizens and businesses, because our government refuses to ask challenging questions or create innovative solutions. Our decisionmakers must use science, common sense, and follow the law in taking the necessary steps to protect the Beaverhead and the important human and ecological communities it supports.

  • Read more about the Beaverhead River’s water quality challenges HERE, and more about the Clark Canyon Hydroelectric Proposal HERE and HERE.
  • Read Montana DEQ’s final §401 Certification for the Clark Canyon Hydroelectric Project HERE, and the DEQ’s Response to Comments HERE.
  • Read our appeal of the Clark Canyon Hydroelectric Project HERE.
  • Download a copy of our press release HERE.