DOCKET # P-2197

APPLICANT: Alcoa Power Generating Inc.

Name of Project:  Yadkin

SaveHighRockLake.org, an unincorporated organization representing over five thousand stakeholders with environmental, economic and/or recreational interests in High Rock Lake as well as the other impoundments that are part of Project 2197 and the Upper Yadkin River Basin , wishes to comment on the Drought Contingency Plan for 2003 submitted by Alcoa Power Generating Inc.

The issue as defined by the FERC

On December 20, 2002 , Mr. Joseph D. Morgan issued an official FERC response to Alcoa Power Generating Inc.’s variance request of August 29, 2002 .  The specific request was to collaborate with NC Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources, SC Dept. of Natural Resources, SC Dept. of Health and Environmental Control and Carolina Power and Light and manage the Yadkin Project under a temporary “Protocol” to help mitigate the effects of the drought.  The variance request also asked to deviate from the drawdown requirements as stated in the approved operating guides for the project and for flexibility in the starting date ( March 6, 2003 ) to refill High Rock reservoir within five feet of full by May 15, 2003 . 

In his response, Mr. Morgan noted that due to climatic changes the variances requested are no longer warranted and normal operations should resume.  He also noted that High Rock Lake should be within five feet of full from May 15, 2003 through September 15, 2003 .  He went on to note that since ground water tables had not been completely recharged, if precipitation should return to below normal occurrences, severe drought conditions could rapidly return.  In response to this possibility, he stated that APGI should be proactive by using the information and communication network established during the drought emergency of 2002 and develop a Drought Contingency Plan for 2003.  Finally he stated that one of the primary goals of this plan should be to maintain High Rock Lake within five feet of full pool (as stated in the terms of their present license).

The Response by APGI

On February 14, 2003 Alcoa Power Generating Inc. submitted a response to this directive but failed to actually provide a contingency plan that could be effectively evaluated.  In the first part of the APGI response they simply restated the events of 2002. 

Step ONE -- the drought determination portion of their “Plan” begins with a discussion of a collaborative process among a limited number of stakeholders beginning in March of 2003 to evaluate stream flows, forecasts, precipitation and ground water levels. As noted in comments by the NC Dept. of Environment and Natural Resources, the number of stakeholders included should be increased to include several NGOs as well, since they are representatives of defined stakeholders also affected by the decisions made.

Step TWO (A) -- uses the U.S. Drought Monitor classification of D1 to deem the existence of drought conditions and seems to supercede Step ONE completely.

Step TWO (B) -- rambles on about what other stakeholders should do at the time a drought is declared but it does not contain any specific steps that APGI would implement if the plan is approved.  There are five points noted in Step TWO (B) (three possible variance requests and two arbitrary statements) but there is NO SPECIFIC PLAN included for drought response measures.  At this point, they indicate in the footnote that they do not understand why they have been directed to develop a Drought Contingency Plan for 2003.

Our Assessment of the Drought Contingency Plan

It appears that APGI has completely missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to the environment as is often stated in their corporate literature.  It seems they are attempting to sell a “Plan” that still leaves almost every option open to their discretion.  They did not include any specific steps necessary to protect the important natural resources they are allowed to use for FREE.  During 2002, APGI constantly referred to the “required” discharge and the current drawdown schedule for the project, combined with unprecedented low inflow conditions as being the reason that High Rock Lake was so severely devastated. However, they make no direct reference to either in their Drought Contingency Plan and only a passing reference to them in the footnote on page 5.

It is disturbing that in the cover letter accompanying this plan APGI states they have chosen to decline the inclusion of two very important requests made by NCDENR.  First, they chose to specifically exclude additional stakeholder representatives in the collaborative process.  Second, they specifically excluded the request to establish “proportional reservoir drawdowns”.  The exclusion of legitimate stakeholder representatives should not be condoned.  The insistence on excluding provisions designed to provide the maximum level of protection to our natural resources, our environment and our wildlife is appalling.    

While Steps ONE and TWO (A) could be considered as options, the most important indicator of a problem is simply inflow to High Rock Lake .  At any point in time that inflow begins to approach the “required” discharge from the project, there IS a problem.  Maintaining High Rock Lake at the mandated levels will become difficult if adjustments are not made quickly.

While APGI chooses to interpret the discharge limits as a “required” discharge, the license actually reads they should “limit” the discharge to the appropriate cubic feet per second (1500, 1610 or 1400 depending on the period).  In every other situation, the word “limit” would indicate this should be the MAXIMUM but not necessarily the exact amount or the minimum. 

The directive of Mr. Morgan is VERY clear to us and the reason it is necessary is even more obvious.  The exceptional drought conditions of 2002 were a clear indication that blindly following the archaic “rule curve” and drawdown schedule for Project 2197 will never work under low flow conditions.  As noted in the comments from NCDENR, the studies necessary to be able to include exact discharge requirements versus lake elevations have not been done at this point in time.  The adaptive approach used during 2002 may still be the best approach to determine exact figures.  However, there was a wealth of information gained during 2002.  No amount of modeling or studying could have predicted the acceptable limits more accurately.  The drought conditions experienced in 2002 were of an unprecedented nature and demonstrated what very possibly could be the “worst case scenario” for the Yadkin-Pee Dee River basin if we are not adequately prepared to react.  There MUST be a plan with pre-approved variances to the existing rules with variable limits (collaboratively determined by all stakeholders, not just the power interests and the Governmental Agencies) that can be quickly implemented when conditions warrant.  At a minimum, the Drought Contingency Plan should include:

 During 2002 there appeared to be a misconception that the upper Yadkin River and the reservoirs in North Carolina SHOULD be used (until depleted) to provide river flows in the Pee Dee River that were higher than what would have occurred naturally.  While these resources are contributors to the total river flow in the Pee Dee River , they are NOT the sole source of those flows.  There are at least six other rivers and large creeks that also contribute to the total flow at the mouth of the Pee Dee River and lack of flow in those areas can NOT be compensated for by totally draining all of the stored reserves in North Carolina.  Historically, the inflow to High Rock Lake has always been approximately one third of the total flow measured at Rockingham , NC .  During periods of low flow the reservoirs in Project 2197 should not be expected to provide more than one third of the total flow there.

While the above normal precipitation during the fall of 2002 allowed all of the lakes to recover to reasonable levels and APGI to return to somewhat normal generation schedules, the beginning of 2003 has not even been close to the historic averages.  The average inflow to High Rock Lake has been almost 40 percent below the historic averages for the month of January. This is a clear indication that the ground water tables have indeed NOT been replenished.  Absent above normal rainfall, the possibility of experiencing real problems in the Yadkin-Pee Dee river basin again this year is very real.

Our Request of the FERC

Just as in the coming relicensing process of Project 2197, details are absolutely crucial to the successful evaluation of any “Plan” and any “Plan” without adequate details can NOT be properly evaluated.  Considering the lack of details and APGI’s refusal to include important suggestions made by the NCDENR, we respectfully request that the Drought Contingency Plan for 2003 submitted by APGI be rejected as inadequate and incomplete. 

In the absence of an effective drought contingency plan we respectfully request that the current “rule curve” and drawdown schedule be abandoned and the figure used as “available storage for hydro generation” for High Rock Lake and Badin Lake be amended to no more than 50,000 Acre Feet each.  Furthermore, we request that APGI be instructed to operate all of Project 2197 as a “run of river” facility for the duration of their existing license to ensure adequate protection of the environment, fish and wildlife, recreation and the rights of all other defined stakeholders.  At High Rock Lake this would provide approximately 4 feet of storage for hydro generation, allow another 4 feet for drought mitigation, and reserve approximately 8 feet for the protection of the environment, fish and wildlife.  At Badin Lake , this would provide approximately 12 feet of storage for hydro generation.  Due to the potential for low DO and stratification problems, as well as issues with the water intake for the city of Albemarle, it was determined in 2002 that 12 feet down was as far as Badin Lake should be pulled.  If those issues can be resolved, there could potentially be additional water used for drought mitigation from Badin Lake . 

For decades, Alcoa has claimed that the economic benefit of the project was tied to hundreds of jobs in the Badin Works smelting facility.  They applied for and received tax incentives based on the concept of the electricity they produce being an integral component in the smelting of aluminum.  They claimed lowering the cost of producing aluminum would create and / or protect local jobs.  Alcoa Aluminum has now closed the smelting operations at the Badin Works facility.  APGI has entered into a five year contract with a third party power broker to sell all of the electricity they produce on the open market. Therefore, the scope, nature and benefit of the generating facilities must be reexamined.  Operations at Project 2197 are the controlling factor in over fifty percent of the Yadkin-Pee Dee River basin . Project considerations should now include the total impact as well as the total benefit to the surrounding and downstream communities. The requested changes would have a very positive impact on the economy of every county surrounding Project 2197.  They would also have a positive impact on the quality, quantity and safety of recreation at the largest reservoir in the project.  Combined with our proposed Drought Contingency suggestions, the entire river basin would be afforded the maximum protection of environment, recreation and fish and wildlife.  Full reservoirs combined with swift reaction to low flow conditions should minimize the need to ever go into full drought mitigation mode with extended reservoir drawdowns.  It should help to improve the overall water quality in several of the reservoirs by keeping “retention time” of the water to a minimum.  Finally, “run of river” operations would encourage the beneficial restoration of a flow regime in the Pee Dee River similar to that of a naturally flowing river as is being sought by many stakeholders in South Carolina .  As the total Megawatt Hour capacity of all of the hydroelectric facilities on the Yadkin River is governed only by the inflow to the project, there should be absolutely no loss in capacity.  Everything coming into the project will still be used for hydroelectric power generation.  The only difference would be in the value of the power to APGI since generation strictly during peak periods would be more limited than it is now.  The total environmental, recreational and economic benefit to the surrounding and downstream communities from these modifications would be huge compared to the potential for minimal profit reductions to APGI stockholders.


Respectfully Submitted,

Robert W. Petree

Chairman of the Board