Hydroelectric plan draws scrutiny

Government agencies, Yavapai-Apache Nation express concerns

‘To our people the desert nesting bald eagle is the barometer of the desert, and the health of the Verde River is the barometer of the eagle’<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->-- Yavapai-Apache tribal elder<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->and historian Vincent Randall

‘To our people the desert nesting bald eagle is the barometer of the desert, and the health of the Verde River is the barometer of the eagle’<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->-- Yavapai-Apache tribal elder<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->and historian Vincent Randall

Numerous government agencies and Indian tribes want to be closely involved in the federal review of a large proposed hydroelectric facility north of Prescott.

During the preliminary comment period, many of them asked for a detailed analysis of the potential impacts of the project on the Upper Verde River.

One agency, the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to deny a preliminary permit that the Longview Energy Exchange Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project applicant is seeking to study the feasibility of the project.

The BIA asks for a FERC denial until the proponents secure an agreement with the BIA, Yavapai-Apache Nation and other affected parties to avoid depleting regional water resources.

"BIA and the Nation are concerned the project's proposed groundwater usage will potentially affect the Nation's trust resources," the BIA letter states. The Yavapai-Apache Nation is working on a water rights settlement and its lands are located along the Middle Verde River.

The hydroelectric site is located on the Chino Grande Ranch and state trust lands about 30 miles north of Prescott.

The proponents estimate the facility could produce as much as 2,000 megawatts of electricity, enough to power approximately 350,000-500,000 homes.

Alongside three reservoirs, the project would require the construction of a transmission line 27 to 38 miles long so it could connect to existing electrical lines.

It would be Arizona's first closed-loop hydroelectric power facility, using about 17,500 acre-feet of Big Chino groundwater to initially fill the reservoirs.

Local officials estimate the project would need another 1,100-1,260 acre-feet of groundwater each year to replace evaporated water. The BIA letter estimated a much higher amount. Project proponents haven't released their estimates yet.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department and U.S. Forest Service already have filed notices that they will intervene in the case. That allows them to be more involved in the FERC review process.

The Game and Fish Department's notice points out that most of the Upper Verde baseflow comes from the Big Chino. It also notes that the Upper Verde is home to federally endangered species.

The U.S. Department of the Interior cited similar concerns about potential impacts to endangered species and the river. While the project could negatively affect wildlife and their habitat, it also could help them if it includes measures such as conservation easements in other parts of the Big Chino Valley, the Department of Interior letter said.

The Forest Service notice says that, although it doesn't object to a preliminary permit for Longview so it can study its potential impacts to the region, the Forest Service wants to know how the project would affect the Big Chino Aquifer and Prescott National Forest resources.

The Arizona State Land Department sent a letter to FERC saying the Chino Grande Ranch owners and applicants never discussed the proposed hydroelectric facility with the State Land Department before filing its FERC application. The State Land Department owns approximately half of the land within the ranch boundaries, all in checkerboard sections.

Salt River Project (SRP), Yavapai-Apache Nation, Ft. McDowell Yavapai Nation, Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, Center for Biological Diversity and Merwyn Davis Trust all have filed written motions to intervene in the application.

SRP and the Indian nations all own senior water rights on the Verde.

"SRP is presently in discussions with the project applicant and other stakeholders to identify and resolve water-use concerns," the SRP motion stated.

The Merwyn Davis Trust was a former owner of the ranch and its letter says it still holds a promissory note on the ranch, which was previously called the CV and the CF ranches.

The tribes and Center for Biological Diversity expressed concerns about the project's impacts on the Verde River as well as bald eagles that depend on the river.

The Yavapai-Apache Nation motion quoted tribal elder and historian Vincent Randall.

"To our people the desert nesting bald eagle is the barometer of the desert, and the health of the Verde River is the barometer of the eagle," Randall said.

Several individuals expressed outright opposition to the Longview project in their letters to FERC during the public comment period for the preliminary permit application: Karen Austermiller, Patrick Beatty, Kurt Olsen, Laura Rhoden and Joe Wills. Rich Taylor was the only one who expressed support at this stage.

Sierra Club member Gary Beverly noted that his group and others want to get federal Wild and Scenic River designation for the Upper Verde, saying a bill will be introduced in Congress this year.

Citizens Water Advocacy Group Vice President Leslie Hoy was among those asking for mitigation of potential environmental impacts before FERC approves the facility.

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