Over a century ago, the founders of what is now Duke Energy had an idea that the 362km Catawba river could energise the Piedmont Carolinas. In 1899, Dr. Gil Wylie began to build a hydroelectric plant at India Hook Shoals near Fort Mill, South Carolina. In 1904, the rope-driven waterwheels of the Old Catawba hydroelectric station turned generators for the first time, electrifying the Victoria Cotton Mill (the hydro station’s only customer). Soon afterward, tobacco magnate James Buchanan ‘Buck’ Duke provided Dr. Wylie the capital for what later would become Duke Energy. Today, Duke Energy continues to generate and deliver electric power to the Piedmont areas of North Carolina and South Carolina.

The Catawba-Wateree region was not a pristine landscape when the first hydroelectric stations were constructed in the early 20th century. The region had suffered considerable environmental impacts from poor land management practices dating back to the arrival of European colonists. From this humble beginning, the Catawba-Wateree river system is fulfilling the vision of Dr. Wylie and J.B. Duke. As evidenced by the significant growth of the region over the past 50 years, Duke Energy’s hydroelectric operation on the Catawba and Wateree rivers successfully supports the ever-expanding power, water, recreation, and environmental interests of a thriving and diverse region. These same interests have been engaged in the Catawba-Wateree hydro relicensing process.

Duke Energy’s collaboration during the Catawba-Wateree relicensing process, with over 160 individual stakeholders representing over 80 organisations, has led to a Comprehensive Relicensing Agreement (CRA) which has been filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This CRA contains the consensus recommendations of 70 signatory stakeholder organisations and individuals for benefits that will improve, balance and help sustain future power and non-power uses of the Catawba-Wateree hydroelectric project.

The licence application incorporates the consensus recommendations of the CRA as proposed future operational changes and resource protection, mitigation and enhancement (PM&E) measures that will secure the operation of hydroelectric facilities on the Catawba and Wateree rivers and enable Duke Energy to continue to meet regional interests for the next 50 years.

Duke Power Company LLC, doing business as Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC (Licensee) is required by FERC to obtain a new license to continue to operate its 13 hydroelectric stations and 11 reservoirs on the Catawba and Wateree rivers which are collectively known as the Catawba-Wateree hydroelectric project (FERC project No. 2232). The current licence was issued in 1958 and will expire on 31 August 2008.

Project description

The Catawba river begins in western North Carolina and flows easterly and southerly into South Carolina, where it joins Big Wateree creek to form the Wateree river. Reservoirs along the Catawba-Wateree hydroelectric project include lake James, lake Rhodhiss, lake Hickory, Lookout Shoals lake, lake Norman, Mountain Island lake, lake Wylie, Fishing Creek reservoir, Great Falls reservoir, Cedar Creek reservoir, and lake Wateree. Construction of the project’s developments began in the early 1900s, with the final development – Cowans Ford – completed in 1963.

The project spans over 362km of river, has a total drainage area of 12,302.5km2 and encompasses approximately 2888km of reservoir and island shoreline within nine counties in North Carolina and five counties in South Carolina. The Catawba-Wateree hydro project does not occupy any federal or tribal lands. Table 1 lists the physical aspects of each development.

There is an intricate set of dependencies on the Catawba-Wateree river system, all hinging on the delicate balance of water use both now and in the future. Jobs, communities, industry, recreation, and the environment are at stake. Their futures depend on the balance and flexibility achieved in the new licence for the project. Accompanying the typical array of aquatic, terrestrial, cultural, recreational, and water quality interests, Duke Energy and other relicensing stakeholders have quantitatively factored the following needs into their models, measures, and decision-making processes:

Energy – in addition to currently providing the energy to power 116,000 homes (on an average yearly basis) and water to support over 8100MW of fossil and nuclear-fuelled power plants (44% of Duke Energy’s North Carolina and South Carolina generating fleet), the Catawba-Wateree river is a critical component in meeting future electric supply needs. Duke Energy’s system demand for electricity in North Carolina and South Carolina is expected to more than double over the next 50 years and a substantial portion of that new generation capacity is expected to rely on the Catawba-Wateree river.

Drinking water – the Catawba-Wateree provides a reliable drinking water supply for over 1.3M people. Future public water supply needs are projected to increase over 200% in the next 50 years.

Jobs – the Catawba-Wateree river also provides a reliable water supply that is vital to the operations of several large industrial facilities, a key component to the economic vitality of the region.

Two tracks for the relicensing process

The combination of extensive studies and regular meetings to discuss basin-wide public policy issues with appropriate government, resource agency, and other jurisdictional authorities created a forum in which virtually all stakeholder interests could be examined. Duke Energy used two processes, or tracks, in parallel to reach this point – the Regulatory Track and the Stakeholder Track.

The regulatory track: studies, data and tools that exceed regulatory requirements

Duke Energy is using the traditional licensing process for the relicensing of the project. Partnering with Devine Tarbell & Associates Inc. to conduct environmental and engineering studies, Duke Energy has deemed it a top priority to address the issues and interests regarding resources affected by the project.

The goal of the regulatory track is to execute the traditional three-phase consultation and study process and complete all study reports so Duke Energy can prepare and submit the licence application on time. The result is an array of studies and other stakeholder tools enveloping not only the 362km of river containing or bordered by the project, but also an additional 120.6km of the Wateree river from the Wateree dam to the confluence with the Congaree river.

•First stage consultation (February 2003-July 2003): In February 2003, Duke Energy filed its First Stage Consultation Document with FERC, thus formally initiating the relicensing process. During March 2003, Duke hosted eight public meetings at four locations throughout the region surrounding the project and held site visits at its Rhodhiss and Cedar creek developments. Duke filed its Notice of Intent with FERC to relicence the Catawba-Wateree hydroelectric project on 21 July 2003.

•Second stage consultation phase (August 2003-August 2006): This phase began with the development of detailed study plans, includes the actual field studies and development of study reports, and concludes with the filing of this application for a new licence with FERC. All study plans, study reports, and resource committee reports (that did not contain sensitive archeological or station security information) were made available for relicensing process participants to review via Duke Energy’s relicensing web site. Relicensing process participants were invited to comment on reports and study teams and resource committees considered all comments received. In addition to developing and conducting studies in accordance with regulatory obligations, Duke Energy conducted additional studies and developed analytical tools that substantially exceed traditional licensing process requirements.

•Third Stage Consultation Phase (September 2006-August 2008): This phase begins with the filing of this application for a new licence with FERC. This includes conducting an independent environmental analysis, establishing conditions to be included in the new licence and concludes with the issuance of the licence.

The stakeholder track: monumental level of stakeholder participation and involvement

In addition to the regulatory track described above, Duke Energy provided an opportunity for additional public input in the relicensing process. The major goal of the stakeholder process was to provide participants with a direct role in negotiating agreements that resolve issues and balance interests related to the project’s future operation.

The addition of a stakeholder track significantly enhanced the traditional relicensing process by giving early and ongoing involvement to tribal and local governments, state and federal resource agencies, businesses, special interest groups, and the general public. The goal of the stakeholder track was to reach a mutually acceptable agreement on all interests related to the project. The two tracks, which shared many common participants and continually exchanged information, merged when the signed CRA provisions were incorporated into the application for a new licence.

Duke Energy’s internal licensing team devoted the majority of 2002 to pre-relicensing stakeholder outreach. This outreach provided significant feedback upon which to design the enhanced Catawba-Wateree relicensing process. The company met with 39 city, county, and tribal governments to provide an orientation to the project and relicensing in general, to discuss local government interests and to encourage their participation. In similar fashion, Duke Energy also met with major industrial companies with river withdrawals and discharges.

Also in 2002 Duke Energy conducted 11 ‘open-house’ style public outreach meetings throughout the basin. Duke Energy’s staff were present to discuss with attendees any topic of interest related to hydro operations. Attendees were asked to fill out surveys including contact information, questions and concerns, and interest in future participation in the relicensing process.

In preparation for the enhanced stakeholder process, Duke cooperated in the development of a series of workshops entitled ‘Building Leadership for Hydro Power Relicensing in the Carolinas’ prepared and conducted by Dr. Steve Smutko, Director of the Natural Resources Leadership Institute at North Carolina State University. The workshops, conducted in 2003, focused on trust-building, building negotiation skills, learning the FERC relicensing process and developing stakeholder agreements.

•Stakeholder Teams: The stakeholder process involved two types of teams – two state relicensing teams and four regional advisory groups. The efforts of these teams were facilitated by Kearns & West, a communications and public affairs firm based in Washington, DC. These teams worked together and developed their own operating charter. Members of these teams also formed and staffed ad-hoc committees, study teams, resource committees, and negotiating teams. From the time that stakeholder teams were formed and meetings began in June 2003 and up to the preparation of the application for a new licence, stakeholders have been represented and involved on every team and in every step of the relicensing process. Stakeholders have collaborated on study plans, field work, study reports, meeting summaries, agreement discussions, and agreement documents.

•Resource committees: These consisted of the Licensee, tribal representatives, state and federal resource agencies, and stakeholder team representatives. These committees coordinated study activities, reviewed study reports and reported their results to the state relicensing teams and advisory groups. They reviewed all study report findings and presented their evaluations in resource committee reports that provided stakeholder teams with a menu of sound resource protection, mitigation and enhancement options from which to negotiate.

•Stakeholder agreements: Participants in the stakeholder process developed two agreements. The first was an agreement-in-principle (AIP), which is a non-binding document that captures the recommendations of the stakeholder teams to resolve relicensing issues. The AIP is included in the license application. The AIP was followed by a legally-binding Comprehensive Relicensing Agreement (CRA), which formally presents stakeholders’ recommendations to FERC for the ‘proposed action’ of the Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement.

Balanced and sustainable results

Duke Energy has requested a new licence for a term of 50 years that implements the new operations and PM&E measures contained in the CRA that include the following major features and benefits:

Additional recreational opportunities – new and enhanced public access areas will create more opportunities for canoeing, kayaking, fishing, swimming, camping and picnicking. Pre-scheduled water releases for guaranteed flows will create additional canoeing and kayaking opportunities.

More land available for recreational use – more than 1011ha of properties owned by Crescent Resources (a division of Duke Energy) will be dedicated for public recreation and Crescent will offer state and local governments more than 1376ha of additional land at discounted prices. Depending on the licence term, Duke Energy will also make up to US$12.3M available for state agencies to purchase additional land for recreational uses.

More information available on the lakes and river – reservoir levels (historical and near term), water release times, generation schedules and maps to public access areas will be made available as a result of this agreement. New safety signs in English, Spanish and international symbols will provide additional information.

Lake level ranges – ranges have been established to protect municipal, industrial and power generation water intakes, as well as recreation and property owner interests. Duke Energy will also formalise and improve its current spring reservoir level stabilisation programme to further enhance fish spawning.

Increased aquatic species habitat – higher flow releases will substantially increase aquatic habitat and will return consistent water flows to some parts of the river for the first time in nearly 100 years.

Water quality – under the agreement, Duke Energy will install new equipment to enhance the quality of water released from hydroelectric plants. These flow releases will meet state water quality requirements and enhance fish habitat.

Water supply management – a new protocol has been developed to establish a basin-wide approach to reduce water use during drought situations. These reductions apply to hydroelectric generation, water flows for recreation and public and industrial water system withdrawals. The goal is to stretch the available water supply until rain returns reservoir water storage and groundwater to normal levels.

Habitat enhancements and species protection – Duke Energy will enter into formal species protection plans for the monitoring, management and protection of federal and state listed species including Rocky Shoals spider lily, Schweinitz’s sunflower, dwarf-flowered heartleaf, bald eagle, shortnose sturgeon, and mussels. Duke will also make monetary contributions to the existing North Carolina and South Carolina Habitat Enhancement programmes.

Cultural resources – a historic properties management plan will be implemented for future management of historic properties, power house properties, and for future consultation with Native American tribes and state historical resource agencies. Important cultural and sacred properties are being leased to state resource agencies and to the Catawba Indian Nation.

Recreation flows – dedicated recreation flows will be released at rates and on schedules that support paddling, wade fishing, boat fishing, and other activities such as duck hunting. These new scheduled flows will be provided in the four primary regulated river reaches as will scheduled canoeing and whitewater flow releases into the Great Falls Bypassed Reaches. A panel of stakeholders will also be able to schedule 10 hours of additional recreation flows each year at each of these locations.

Recreation facilities – in addition to current Shoreline Management Plan (SMP) commitments, the Licensee will develop, or partner with others to develop enhancements to existing public recreation facilities or construction of new facilities at 88 locations with an initial emphasis on non-motorised boating, access to regulated river reaches, and land-based recreational improvements.

The proposed operations described represent the cumulative efforts of the hundreds of individuals who participated in the enhanced relicensing effort. The protection, mitigation, and enhancement initiatives identified through the technical studies and analysed within the stakeholder process could safeguard the region’s critical needs associated with the operation of the project for the next 50 years.

The Catawba-Wateree relicensing process has met as wide-ranging an array of interests as can reasonably be achieved. The opportunity for constructive and meaningful stakeholder involvement has been provided and sustainable solutions to project-related impacts have been developed.

Author Info:

For more information, please visit Duke Energy’s website at www.duke-energy.com or email: mkgreen@duke-energy.com

TablesTable 1