SELC pushes for stronger protections in decades-old license for Coosa River dams

A tributary of Alabama's Coosa River, which is threatened by weak standards for hydrolectric dams. (© Beth Young)

SELC and our partners continue to push for better water quality protections for the Coosa River in challenging a license that could dictate dam and reservoir management operations on the river for the next 30 years.

SELC, Alabama Rivers Alliance, and American Rivers filed a petition in June 2013 with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), asking the agency to rewrite the license for Alabama Power Company’s operations of seven hydroelectric dams that span 225 miles along the Coosa River. The groups argued that FERC did not complete a thorough environmental impact statement as part of the relicensing.

Since Alabama Power’s hydroelectric dams were first licensed in the '20s and '50s, the Coosa River has experienced significant ecological degradation. Construction of the dams on the Coosa River wiped out more than 30 freshwater species, one of the biggest extinction events in North America during the 20th century.

Decades later, low water flow and decreased oxygen levels continue to contribute toward the decline in biodiversity, as numerous additional freshwater species in the vicinity of the dams have been listed as endangered or threatened. 

In response to FERC’s denial of the petition in April 2016, the groups have now filed an appeal in D.C. Circuit Court.

“Improving the license conditions would allow for a greater chance of restoring the health of the Coosa River and for ensuring the protection of our natural resources,” said Rupak Thapaliya, Associate Director at American Rivers.  

“These dams have caused a major decline in the health of the Coosa River, and allowing these incredibly low oxygen levels under the license could result in an even steeper decline,” said SELC Staff Attorney Sarah Stokes. “We remain committed to improving the water quality protections under the license and in advocating for a comprehensive study to reflect the modern-day environmental impacts on the river.”

“We only get this opportunity every 40 to 50 years, so we feel it is critical to know the impacts of the proposed operations on this vitally important system and the inevitable impacts on the entire Mobile Bay watershed,” said Mitch Reid, Program Director at Alabama Rivers Alliance. “​We simply cannot afford to​ waste this opportunity to fully analyze these impacts, and FERC must have the sound science behind it in order to determine the proper steps forward.”

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