What are some common issues that the Department of Ecology is facing today in regards to hydro licensing?

As a hydro 401 certification lead for the Department of Ecology (Ecology), I coordinate and facilitate communications internally, as well as externally with all stakeholders, permittees, overlapping authorities and anyone who may need to be involved with the licensee or certification. This communication is critical for a successful project.

Current budgetary restraints often create limitations. We are required, as is everyone, to do more with less. It is important to maintain accurate records for the future, as licenses may last up to 50 years.

Maintaining good communication in every aspect with the licensee, as well as internally, inside the Department of Ecology (Ecology) is a critical component. There are so many different moving parts to a 401 certification that involve other programs within Ecology, other than just the water quality program that issues the certification.

In order to have a hydro license, you must have a water quality certificate from the Department of Ecology. What is required to obtain this certificate?

Section 401 of the Clean Water Act requires applicants, for a Federal permit or license for activities that involve discharge into navigable waters, to obtain a Water Quality Certification from the state where the discharge originates.

The licensee must apply for such certification to Ecology. Ecology has up to one year to take one of the following actions: grant the certification with conditions, deny the certification based on an inability of the project to meet water quality standards or waive the state certification approval process.

At the time of filing an application with Ecology, the applicant must follow public participation activities under Washington Administrative Code (WAC) 173-225-030 which requires them to publish a legal notice of the application, notify interested parties, and mail a copy of the application to any tribe who asks.

At this time, the applicant provides Ecology a completed application for a Water Quality Certification, including, Water Quality Attainment Plans and compliance schedules under WAC 173-201A-510(5) for those water quality parameters that potentially would not meet standards in the future. Submittal documents associated with the certification include: biological and engineering studies, modeling, quality assurance, compliance schedules, funding commitments, and economic analyses showing how the dam will comply with water quality standards, and all applicable reference information in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) fillings.

Ecology will then review this information, as well as the federal National Environmental Policy Act prior to issuing a Water Quality Certification.

The certification is then released as a draft for a determined amount of time for comments and then issued as final. This draft issuance process is only done by the water quality program as a policy, not a rule or law. Anyone may appeal the certification within 30 days through an appeal process identified in the certification.

What are some common obstacles that Power Plants are facing today when trying to obtain a water quality certificate?

Obtaining a 401 certification is the sometimes the final step before receiving a license. There are many unknowns for a licensee that can leave them with a feeling of uncertainty. Communication between the licensee and Ecology is the key because it leads to a good working relationship and less uncertainty. Meeting several years in advance with the Department of Ecology to discuss these issues or concerns before licensing/certification occurs, has proven to be very helpful and may identify potential roadblocks or unexpected obstacles.

Depending upon which process is used, (Integrated, Traditional and Alternative Licensing Processes) it can be time consuming. Planning is always difficult and there are always unexpected obstacles along the way. Relicensing can be very costly and time consuming.

After the 401 certification is issued, anyone may appeal the 401 within 30 days. This is always a critical, yet uncertain time for both Ecology and the licensee. Ecology’s water quality program does provide a comment period of the draft 401, which may help identify and possibly resolve issues, but appeals may, still may occur.

Since the licensing process has proven to be difficult, where do you see the future of hydro going in the next 5 years? Do you believe that this process will become more difficult or more streamlined?

We can learn from past projects and help each other to understand what works and what doesn’t by attending conferences such as yours and hopefully working with FERC. FERC could be holding workshops or be hosting debriefings after a process is completed to see what worked and what didn’t work. The ultimate key is good clear communication between all parties involved.

Ms. Mangold has over 15 years professional experience addressing various environmental issues regarding water quality, threatened and endangered species, biological assessments, wetland assessment/delineation, wildlife assessments with state and federal agencies, industries, and consulting firms. She also offers over three years professional experience in instruction at college level biology and environmental science. Ms. Mangold has worked with the Washington State Department of Ecology for over 10 years.

For more information please contact Michele Westergaard, Senior Marketing Manager – Media & PR, marcus evans at 312-540-3000 ext. 6625 or Michelew@marcusevansch.com.