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FERC issues new Catawba-Wateree license to Duke Energy
Wateree Dam
The Lake Wateree dam, pictured here, is part of the Catawba-Wateree Hydroelectric Project managed by Duke Energy. The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently issued Duke a new 40-year license to continue operating the project, following years of negotiation, court battles and the official relicensing process. - photo by Johnny Deal

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently issued a new 40-year operating license to Duke Energy for the Catawba-Wateree Hydroelectric Project. It became effective Nov. 1, 2015.

Kershaw County Administrator Vic Carpenter said the county is looking forward to working with Duke as it implements the terms of the licensing agreement.

“We feel it will have positive benefits to this county,” Carpenter said. “They’ve modified their release schedule to put more oxygen in the river, they’ve agreed to retrofitting the dam as needed and making investments in public spaces up and down the whole river system.”

Lake Wateree Association (LWA) Chairman David McCaskill said many LWA and Wateree Home Owner Association members spent a lot of volunteer hours on a stakeholder agreement as part of Duke’s relicensing effort.

“Some of them didn’t know if they would live to see the license worked out,” McCaskill said. “They spent a lot of time meeting with folks at Duke, hashing out what they’d like to see done to operate the hydro-facility there (on the lake).”

McCaskill listed some of the same items as Carpenter when it comes to benefits to the community, including a new bladder dam feature.

“It’s going to help with some of our flooding issues, helping to get water through the system a little quicker. There are good things in the agreement -- good things for the lake, recreation, preserving the shore line and water quality of habitats,” he said.

On a related note, McCaskill said LWA members are also happy to see what has happened with portions of the former Greenwood “Liberty Hill Farms” development tract, recently purchased by the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (DNR). DNR officials said in October the agency would open the property to the public for “hunting, fishing, hiking, viewing wildlife and enjoying nature.”

“That was through the efforts of people like State Sen. Vincent Sheheen so that land will not be developed,” McCaskill said. “We wanted to see that. It went through a different avenue, but we’re glad to see that.”

According to a Duke Energy press release, the new license allows the company to continue operating its 13 hydroelectric stations and 11 associated reservoirs located along the Catawba-Wateree River in North Carolina and South Carolina.

“The significance of the new license cannot be overstated,” Duke Energy Vice President of Water Strategy, Hydro Licensing and Lake Services Steve Jester said. “Receiving the new license ensures the Catawba-Wateree River will continue to support and sustain communities across the Carolinas for at least the next 40 years. In addition, Duke Energy can now take action on the many benefits which will enhance the region and environment for generations to come.”

Receiving the license is the result of an extensive three-year collaborative process with community stakeholders representing 85 organizations, including state and federal resource agencies, local governments, a Native American tribe, community organizations and private citizens.

“This license represents the input of many people and organizations. As a result, the river will be managed in a balanced way so its natural, cultural, recreational and economic resources are protected and enhanced for our future,” Catawba-Wateree Relicensing Coalition Executive Coordinator Vicki Taylor. “We will have more places to swim, fish, picnic, hike, boat and camp. Due to operational changes, the habitats of native plants and animals will be improved.”

The stakeholders held more than 300 public meetings to discuss river-related interests, review scientific study results and craft a collective vision to meet the region’s needs. The effort resulted in a Comprehensive Relicensing Agreement (CRA), which FERC incorporated into the new license.

“The stakeholder teams get the credit for the successful outcome,” noted Jester.

The new license also allows Duke Energy to continue meeting customers’ needs by securing the necessary resources to operate current and future power generation facilities including its hydroelectric sites, which are vital for meeting peak demand.

“The Catawba-Wateree River supports and sustains the vitality of the region,” S.C. State Sen. Wes Hayes of York County said. “The new license is a testament to the importance of regional collaboration and working together to find solutions to meet our water and energy needs.”

Requirements of the license are tailored to the region’s priorities, including expanded recreational access and amenities and scheduled releases of additional water flow for recreation. It also addresses water quality enhancements, a new drought management protocol, long-range water supply planning, land conservation, expansion of aquatic habitats, protection of endangered species and preservation of historic and archeological resources.

Duke Energy voluntarily implemented many measures early, while others will be put in place in the coming months and years. More than half of the 89 new or enhanced public recreation areas will be completed within approximately five years and the rest within approximately 20 years, pending the necessary FERC approvals.

Key benefits and requirements of the new license and CRA include

• operational changes including new flow releases and increased aeration capabilities at hydro stations to help improve water quality, enhance aquatic habitats and protect aquatic species;

• new scheduled recreation flow releases from several dams;

• modifications to the Lake Wateree Dam spillway to improve management of high water events;

• new public recreation areas and expanded amenities at some existing recreation areas developed by Duke Energy or in partnership with state and local governments;

• $16.1 million for land conservation, which has already preserved 5,371 acres in the river basin to date;

• 2,455 acres in conveyances and easements for land conservation, public recreation and water quality protection;

• contributions for cultural resource protection and enhancements;

• more than $4 million in funding for partners, primarily local governments, to develop public recreational amenities;

• regional stakeholder organizations to manage droughts and conduct long-term water supply planning; and

• public information system updates, in addition to online and phone-based resources that have already been implemented.

The eagerly anticipated recreation amenities focus on public swimming and paddling opportunities, along with camping and the creation of new trails along and near the lakes and river. The Great Falls community, for example, will have water flowing in bypassed reaches of the Catawba River for the first time in more than 100 years.

“With the new license issued, the possibilities and opportunities coming to Great Falls are numerous,” Great Falls Home Town Association Inc. Executive Director Glinda Price Coleman said. “Residents and visitors will enjoy the new whitewater rapids, fishing areas, kayak put-ins and other natural attractions many did not know were in the community. Our downtown is ideally located near the new amenities, and we are eager to take full advantage of it.”

Other important outcomes of the relicensing process include two regional stakeholder groups focused on protecting and preserving water resources. The Catawba-Wateree Drought Management Advisory Group (CW-DMAG) works collectively to respond to drought conditions and implement conservation measures. The Catawba-Wateree Water Management Group (CWWMG) is focused on long-range planning and advancing a water supply plan for the region. 

“The relicensing process brought regional water suppliers, resource agencies and industries together to address important issues,” Charlotte Water Director Barry Gullet, who is also chair of the CWWMG. “Today, our region is a model of proactive involvement for sustainable water resources through the creation of several stakeholder groups like the CW-DMAG and CWWMG.”

The Catawba-Wateree River provides the region with affordable and reliable energy as well as drinking water. The hydro project is essential to Duke Energy Carolinas’ generation fleet, providing 843 megawatts of clean, renewable and flexible hydropower and cooling water to 7,721 megawatts of fossil and nuclear generation, which collectively represents 25 percent of Duke Energy’s power generation capacity in the Carolinas. It provides drinking water for nearly 2 million people and is an important source for industrial water supply. In addition, more than 10 million residents and visitors enjoy recreation access areas each year.

The project was originally licensed for 50 years in 1958. Duke Energy filed the application to relicense the project in August 2006. The application process was delayed by several challenges which were successfully resolved.

Duke Energy will carefully review the terms and conditions of the new license during the next 30 days and will file a Request for Rehearing with the FERC if there are items requiring clarification or correction.