IDAHO FALLS — Two years into a process to develop two hydroelectric projects on two canals several agencies, conservation groups and landowners are monitoring the progress.
The latest round of action came at the end of January, when the Greater Yellowstone Coalition and a couple of agencies provided comment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on the projects.
Both projects are on canals that divert water from the Snake River north of Idaho Falls. The New Sweden Irrigation District and the Idaho Irrigation District have proposed separate projects but are using the same firm as their project developer, Nick Josten at GeoSense in Idaho Falls.
In each case the company has filed and received a preliminary permit to determine the feasibility of the project.
The Idaho Irrigation District project is located on the east side of the river about 7 miles upstream of Idaho Falls in Jefferson and Bonneville counties. The company proposes to use an existing 75-year-old concrete diversion dam to divert an extra 1,000 cubic feet of water into the Idaho Canal. The canal banks would be built up to accommodate the extra water that would flow in the canal about 3.2 miles before running through a new power plant with a single turbine that could generate 1.2 megawatts of power, producing about 7.5 gigawatts of power annually. The water would then be released back into the river.
The company hopes to sell the power to Rocky Mountain Power under a 20-year contract, according its FERC preliminary permit.
On the other side of the Snake River, the New Sweden project would be located on the Great Western Canal. The project proposes to build two sets of headgates on the canal to split water that would be used for irrigation and power production. It two would divert as much as 1,000 cfs of water for power production, using a single turbine in a new power plant. The banks of the canal would have to be built up about one to 3 feet to accommodate the extra flow.
The water from the power plant would be returned to the river about 3.5 miles downstream of the diversion.
The projects themselves would be located on private property, but the same section of the Snake River would be affected by both projects.
As with any proposed hydroproject on a major stream, the projects have drawn the attention of federal and state agencies and conservation organizations.
Trout Unlimited and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition have weighed in, as well as the Idaho Fish and Game and other agencies.
Their concern is the effect of the project on the fishery and fish and wildlife habitat. The Greater Yellowstone Coalition, in particular, questions why the cumulative effects of both extra water diversions have not been addressed along that stretch of the river.
“Our primary concern is in this stretch,” said Marv Hoyt of the coalition’s Idaho Falls office. “If both projects are granted (licenses) it could reduce flows by 2,300 cfs in the stretch.”
That could potentially increase icing in the winter on the stretch and “affect fish wildlife and recreation,” Hoyt said.
Before the project reaches the licensing stage, the two companies will be required to conduct feasibility studies to determine the ramifications on the river.
“We’re monitoring it closely,” Hoyt said of the process.