Utility stops flows to closed hatchery but keeps some North Fork Kern water for itself

July 28, 2022
by Lois Henry
Water flows to Southern California Edison's Kern River No. 3 power plant near Kernville from the Fairview Dam on the North Fork of the Kern River near McNally's resort. COURTESY Kern River Boaters
Lois Henry

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Southern California Edison has stopped taking water out of the North Fork of the Kern River for a state fish hatchery that has been closed for nearly two years but added a new diversion that river advocates are calling a “dangerous precedent.”

The move comes several weeks after river advocates complained the utility was using the hatchery to make “lawless” diversions at a perilously dry time.

The hatchery diversions, 37 cubic feet per second (cfs), were taken out of the river at the Fairview Dam near McNally’s resort, and run through Edison’s Kern River No. 3 power plant (KR3), near Kernville, then dumped back into the river at the long-shuttered hatchery.

Considering the river is only running at 123 cfs, according to the Dreamflows website, that was a big chunk of water. It was especially galling to river advocates as the hatchery has been closed since 2020 and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife sent a letter to Edison this past January asking the utility to cease diversions.

An Edison spokeswoman initially told SJV Water the utility had to request permission from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to cease the hatchery diversions and that it was “quite a process” involving consultation with Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Forest Service. An email string she provided Thursday seem to indicate Edison started discussions with those agencies July 14, then sent a letter to FERC on July 27 notifying the agency it was stopping the hatchery diversions – and then stopped them.

However it happened, river advocates were happy to see more water in the 16-mile stretch of river between McNally’s and Kernville.

But they were extremely concerned that tucked into its discussions about the hatchery flows, Edison seemed to arbitrarily appropriate a small flow for maintenance at KR3. A flow it had never been allocated as part of its FERC license, nor as part of a 1995 settlement with the U.S. Forest Service that established minimum instream flows, said Brett Duxbury, a co-founder of Kern River Boaters, which advocates for river recreation and the health of its natural fishery.

Equally upsetting, the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife acquiesced to Edison taking that water without any public comment or environmental study, Duxbury said.

“This is a dangerous precedent for the North Fork Kern and rivers everywhere,” Duxbury wrote in an email. “A minimum instream flow is supposed to be just that: a minimum flow designed to support all forms of life dependent upon river water. Edison now proposes to reduce that flow in our river by 10 cfs — a reduction amounting to 15% in recent summers — and it proposes this not to enhance the river in other ways, but simply to protect its property.”

In Edison’s July 27 letter to FERC, the utility states the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife both agreed to allow the utility to temporarily take 10 cfs out of the river for a number of maintenance purposes at KR3.

Edison’s letter notes it is seeking a long-term variance to its FERC license to include the 10 cfs maintenance diversion and that the Forest Service and Fish and Game have agreed to that as well.

Indeed, the email string between the three entities shows that the Forest Service is OK with Edison taking the 10 cfs maintenance flow in the short- and long-term. Fish and Wildlife appears to give its blessing to the new diversion on a temporary basis without addressing whether it’s good with the diversion long-term.

None of that is OK with river advocates, including Duxbury.

“We are not surprised by Edison’s lack of concern for our river environment, but we are deeply discouraged by the Forest Service and Fish and Wildlife department’s uncritical concurrence,” he wrote.

He said his group and others would be opposing allocation of the 10 cfs maintenance flow for Edison.
Several groups are already opposing Edison’s application to  relicense its KR3 power plant without greater consideration to increasing flows between Fairview Dam and the plant.

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.

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