Water Power Development

Water Power Development was addressed in docket R-03-005: In the Matter of the Consideration of Regulations for Water-Power Development Projects. A complete history of the docket is available on the docket details page.

Hydroelectric Power Projects are any project that generates electricity by using the power of water.

  • America's largest renewable resource!
  • 20% of the world's electricity is generated by water power
  • 12% of the United States supply of electricity
  • 90,000 megawatts of electricity annually
  • Enough to meet the needs of 28.3 million consumers!
  • 90% of all electricity from all renewable resources (solar, geothermal, wind, biomass, and water)
  • Generated at only 3% of the nation's 80,000 dams


  • 02/11/1999: Senator Frank H. Murkowski introduced a bill [S.422] entitled "A bill to provide for Alaska state jurisdiction over small Water Power Development projects"
  • 11/09/2000: The Federal Power Act was amended by adding section 32 [16 U.S.C. 823(c)] entitled "Alaska State Jurisdiction over Small Hydroelectric Projects"
  • 03/13/2001: Senators Torgerson, Taylor, Austerman, and Cowdery introduced SB 140 entitled "An Act relating to regulation and licensing of certain water-power development projects; and providing for an effective date"
  • 01/31/2003: AS42.45.350 became effective. Requires the Commission to adopt regulations to establish a regulatory program for small (5 MW or less) water-power development projects


Types of Effects
  • Stratification
  • Occurs in Reservoirs
  • Colder, oxygen-depleted water discharged downstream
  • Supersaturation
  • Air becomes trapped in water spilled over a dam
  • Levels of nitrogen increases, fish get something similar to “ the bends”
  • Changing Water Levels and Flows
  • Inundation of the resources and habitats
  • Daily, weekly, or seasonal fluctuations due to “power peaking”
  • Sedimentation
  • No longer providing important organic nutrients, inorganic material [silts, sands, and gravels], and habitat media to the downstream ecosystem
  • Organic nutrients build up behind the dam, called “nutrient loading” results in oxygen levels decreasing in the reservoir
  • Inorganic material [silts, sand, and gravel] not able to migrate downstream decrease the volume of the reservoir
  • Erosion
  • Increase the amount of sedimentation
  • Changing water levels and lack of shoreline vegetation of a reservoir increases the amount of sedimentation
  • Increase flows due to discharge from dam or smaller channel sizes for bypass reach and downstream channel can also lead to removal of streamside vegetation. (Changes to the riparian zone directly impacts the species which it can support.)
  • Flow Alterations
  • Bypass Reach: General reduction in flow, Variations from natural flow cycles, Dependent on power generation and demand
  • Downstream Reach: Variation from natural flow cycles, Increase in rates of flow changes due to power generation and demand along with shutdowns

Habitat Conditions (Fish & Wildlife)
  • Vary greatly from project to project
  • Fish Movement (Resident fish: spawning, seasonal migration and spawning - Cutthroat trout in Juneau to Bull trout in Eastern Washington; Anadromous fish: in-migration, spawning, and out-migration - Pacific Salmon, Steelhead, and others)
  • Lack of streamside vegetation, cover for fish and other aquatic organisms

Fish & Wildlife Act
  • Requires Federal agencies to consult with National Marine Fisheries Services (NMFS) and Alaska Fish & Game agencies to prevent loss of & damage to fish & wildlife resources.
  • Requires equal consideration & coordination of Fish & Wildlife Conservation with other water resource development programs and values.
  • AS 42.45.350 and 16 U.S.C. 823(c) requires the State program to provide the same equal consideration.

Endangered Species Act
  • Provides for the conservation of ecosystems upon which threatened and endangered species depend, through Federal actions & State programs.
  • Requires Federal agencies to insure that any action authorized, funded or carried out by them is not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of listed species or modify their critical habitat (Section 7 Consultation).
  • AS 42.45.350 and 16 U.S.C. 823(c) requires the State program to provide the same equal consideration.

National Environmental Policy Act
  • Requires Federal agencies to document the effects of their recommendations, proposal for legislation, or other major actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.
  • NMFS authorized to review and comment on potential environmental impacts within its jurisdiction by law or special expertise.

Federal Power Act
  • Section 10(a) [16 U.S.C. 803(a)]: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission [FERC] must consider the fish and wildlife recommendations of Federal and State resource agencies and Indian Tribes to ensure selected projects are “best adapted” to the comprehensive development of the waterway.
  • Section 10(j) [16 U.S.C. 803(j)]: Fish and Wildlife recommendations pursuant to the Fish & Wildlife Coordination Act must be included in the license unless inconsistent with other Federal Law. Such recommendations must provide for the protection, mitigation, or enhancement of fish and wildlife. Requires Dispute Resolution with agencies if FERC finds a recommendation inconsistent. If recommendation is not adopted, FERC must make a finding that the conditions it selects meet requirements of Section 10(a).
  • Section 18 - Mandatory Prescription of Fishways [16 U.S.C. 811]: The Commission [FERC] shall require the construction, maintenance, and operation by a licensee at it own expense of such fishways as may be prescribed by the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Commerce.” Authority is shared with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
  • Section 30 [16 U.S.C. 823(a)]: Mandatory Fish and Wildlife conditions for Exemptions. Conditions necessary to prevent loss of or damage to fish and wildlife. Responsibility is shared with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and State Fish & Game agencies.
  • AS 42.45.350 and 16 U.S.C. 823(c): Requires the State program to provide the same equal consideration.

Other Federal Laws
  • National Historic Preservation Act (Areas of religious or cultural significance to an Indian Tribe can be addressed under Section 106)
  • American Indian Religious Freedom Act
  • Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act
  • Clean Water Act
  • Wild and Scenic Rivers Act

Last Updated: 09/07/2007

Date Issued: 9/1/2007