State Proposes Ending Winter Drawdown of Waterbury Reservoir
The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation has issued a draft water quality certification decision that, if finalized, will keep Waterbury Reservoir at its higher summertime level throughout the year. Currently Green Mountain Power draws down the reservoir during the winter months for hydroelectric power production.
Green Mountain Power must obtain a water quality certification from the state as part of its federal operating license renewal from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A DEC press release on the draft decision states, "Under the federal Clean Water Act, the department’s water quality certification must ensure that dam operations are conducted in a manner that protects fishing, swimming, boating and other recreational uses of both the Waterbury Reservoir and Little River. The department must also ensure that the dam continues to serve its primary purpose of flood control."
"We have worked hard to develop a water quality certification that meets our obligations to protect water quality, continues to allow Green Mountain Power to generate clean, renewable energy, and ensures that the dam will continue to provide downstream communities with critical protection against flood damage." - DEC Commissioner David Mears
In addition to maintaining the higher summertime water levels year-round, the draft decision released this week would require that flows through the Waterbury Reservoir dam "be managed to more closely mirror the natural flow of the Little River in a manner that improves fish habitat and the ecological health of the river."
DEC stated, "The draft decision would also require Green Mountain Power to change the manner in which they release water through their turbines to reduce the significant fluctuations that currently harm fish and aquatic life downstream of the dam."
These requirements would not go into effect until the existing flood control gates on the dam are replaced, according to the state. "To address concerns about the effects of the new water level management regime on dam safety, the department has committed to initiating discussions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to enter into an agreement for the Corps to conduct a dam safety assessment as part of the gate and spillway replacement project," the release stated. "The Department determined that the winter drawdown should not be eliminated until the Corps determines that the spillway and gates can be safely operated."
“Waterbury Reservoir and the Little River are part of an area of Vermont that is widely used and loved by many thousands of Vermonters,” Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears commented. “We have worked hard to develop a water quality certification that meets our obligations to protect water quality, continues to allow Green Mountain Power to generate clean, renewable energy, and ensures that the dam will continue to provide downstream communities with critical protection against flood damage.”
A public meeting on the decision is scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 6, from 1 p.m.. to 3 p.m. at Crossett Brook Middle School in Waterbury. The Department will also accept written comments on the draft until 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 6, 2014.