Category: Environment

BLM releases Southine EIS scoping report

The Bureau of Land Management recently released the scoping summary report for the proposed Southline Transmission Line project, ending the 90-day scoping period for the project environmental impact statement.

BLM and Western, as joint lead agencies in the preparation of the EIS, held six open houses in New Mexico and Arizona in May during the scoping phase. The scoping phase gives the public the opportunity to learn about a proposed project, share concerns and provide comments on what potential impacts should be analyzed in the draft EIS expected in 2013.

Major concerns discovered during the scoping process included the NEPA process and BLM’s management plan amendment, wildlife impacts and socioeconomic impacts.

Southline Transmission, LLC, proposes to construct, operate and maintain a 360-mile, high-voltage power line from Afton, N.M., to Saguaro substation northwest of Tucson, Ariz. About 240 miles would be new construction of a 345-kilovolt line on mostly BLM land while the rest would be an upgrade to an existing Western line. If completed, the line will add 1,000 megawatts of transmission capacity to the southwest.

Reclamation delays project to relocate Western lines

On July 31, the Bureau of Reclamation announced the delay of a project to relocate Western’s high-voltage transmission lines near Yellowtail Dam in Montana from August to October because of increased environmental concerns.

“I applaud our hydropower partners at Western for their sensitivity to the potential ramifications of the outage associated with the relocation project,” said Dan Jewell, Area Manager for Reclamation’s Montana Area Office. “While these types of maintenance events are never risk-free, delaying the work until later in the year will help reduce that risk.”

The current location of the lines puts them at risk for the dangerous ice storms that occur in the area over winter, prompting a joint effort between Reclamation and Western to move the lines.

The relocation is scheduled to take about two weeks, and the outage requires Reclamation to bypass the water turbines. With the unusually warm summer and fall, agencies and environmentalists were concerned about the impact of not using the colder water at deeper water levels to power the turbines in August. Alternatives to move the water, including the holo-jets and spillways, could increase nitrogen or water temperature, potentially harming fish.

According to Friends of the Bighorn River blog, “With lake water temperatures already well into the 70′s, a slight mistake, miscalculation or unplanned natural or man-made event could have long lasting, devastating effects on the river where fish are already highly stressed from anglers, low flows, gas bubble trauma, irrigation return, warm water and habitat loss.”

 The delay is thought to be a fitting compromise to ensure reliable electricity from Yellowtail Dam this winter and protection of the environment.

Western supports developing alternative for Glen Canyon Dam Operations

As part of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, the seven Basin States (Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming) are developing an alternative for the Long Term Experimental and Management Plan Environmental Impact Statement (LTEMP EIS). The EIS examines how to operate Glen Canyon Dam to protect downstream resources and maintain water deliveries and power generation. Western is supporting the Basin States by facilitating participation of scientists who are experts in key resource areas, by collecting scientific information and drafting key policy and scientific information in a format that will serve as an alternative for the LTEMP EIS.   

The Resource-Targeted, Condition-Dependent Strategy described in the alternative focuses on three key resources: 

  1. Recovering the endangered humpback chub
  2. Improving the trout fishery at Lee’s Ferry
  3. Improving or protecting key  sediment-based resources (camping beaches, backwater habitat and archaeological site protection) in the Grand Canyon

The Basin States  briefed officials of the Department of Interior and delivered this alternative to the co-lead agencies, Bureau of Reclamation and the National Park Service  on July 2. Western, the Colorado River Energy Distributors Association and the Basin States hope that this alternative will be selected as the preferred alternative and ultimately be implemented.

Southline project scoping period extended to July 5

As a result of numerous requests, the Bureau of Land Management is extended the scoping period for the proposed Southline Transmission Line Project. The scoping period, which was scheduled to end June 4, has been extended to end July 5. Western is a co-lead agency on the environmental impact statement.

The Southline Transmission Project would collect and deliver electricity across southern New Mexico and southern Arizona, relieving congestion, strengthening the existing electrical system and improving transmission access for local renewable and other energy sources.

Learn more about the project on BLM’s webpage.

Hoover Dam Bypass: An award-winning bridge

The Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge was honored this week with the American Society of Civil Engineer’s 2012 Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement award March 22. At nearly 900 feet above the Colorado River and 1,900 feet long, the Hoover Dam Bypass helps to protect the security of the dam by removing through traffic from US 93. The structure was constructed in a harsh environment where temperatures reached triple digits during the day. The structure is the highest and longest arch concrete bridge in the Western hemisphere and features the world’s tallest concrete columns.

The project was recognized not only as a significant contribution to both the civil engineering profession and society as a whole but also emphasized environmental and cultural stewardship. The highway underpasses were built for endangered desert bighorn sheep, native plants in the construction corridor were preserved and replaced, and Native American cultural properties adjacent to the site were protected.

Western staff joined with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Federal Highway Administration, National Park Service and the states of Arizona and Nevada to build the bridge across the Colorado River, bypassing the highway that spans the crest of Hoover Dam.

Read more about the OCEA award and Hoover Dam Bypass Bridge at the ASCE’s news release.

House approves California water bill

On Feb. 29, the House of Representatives passed HR 1837, also known as the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Water Reliability Act, which will create more water storage capacity in the state of California. If enacted as written, the proposed bill would result in a number of changes, including, but not necessarily limited to:

  • the existing environmental regulatory baseline under which the Central Valley Project is operated
  • the list of scientific and fish and wildlife management agencies which would  responsible for assisting the Secretary of Interior in determining what would constitute reasonable in-stream flow requirements
  • potential increases in both project use and Base Resource allocations

However, the biggest impact to Western will be the portion of the bill that relates to the Central Valley Project Improvement Act. These impacts would result from resetting the existing environmental regulatory compliance standards to a previous one (i.e., the 1994 Bay-Delta Accords). As proposed, this bill would assure transparency of CVPIA Restoration Fund expenditures by creating an oversight expenditure board, enact a sunset date as to when the Restoration Funds may be reduced as stipulated in the original act, and capping contributions to CVP power preference users as is the case for CVP water users. Because preference power customers pay CVPIA Restoration Fund assessments as an additive to their cost-based Base Resource allocation, these actions will ease some of the cost burdens currently faced by Western’s Sierra Nevada customers.

The bill faces a somewhat more problematical future in the Senate as the measure is opposed by several environmental groups. Stakeholders are also concerned that parts of the proposed new legislation could be separated and attached as amendments to other legislation being considered by Congress.

Plan to improve fish population

To better manage fishery related actions at the Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon National parks, the National Parks Services held a public meeting in Page, Ariz., March 5. Participants who attended the meeting, including Western staff, are working to develop a single–planning effort that will better coordinate projects aimed to protect and restore endangered, native and sport fish populations..

The goal is to create a plan that covers both parks and gives NPS the ability to implement actions and ensure compliance coverage. The main objective of the collaboration is to restore the river eco systems to a pre-human state by removing non-native fish from some zones so the native species can rebuild. Other zones will keep non-native fish for sport fishing and will continue to hold non-native fish such as brown trout.

 The next step is to schedule pre-scoping meetings to get information out to park guides, hotel owners, anglers, rafters and other stakeholders. As a stakeholder Western will be a part of the scoping process and will provide input when the environmental assessment is out for comment.

DSW makes power lines more visible to protect wildlife

Seeing a flock of birds on a transmission line can be an amazing sight, and although birds can perch safely on electrical wires, colliding with them can cause injury or death. When power lines are near lakes and ponds, the risk of collision increases. This is the case of the birds of Lake Watson in Prescott, Ariz.

Desert Southwest Apprentice Lineman Horacio Adriano installs bird diverters on Western’s Prescott-Pinnacle Peak 230-kilovolt line.

Desert Southwest Apprentice Lineman Horacio Adriano installs line-marking devices on Western’s Prescott-Pinnacle Peak 230-kilovolt line.

In January, a five-man Desert Southwest maintenance crew, led by Foreman II Lineman Ronnie Martinez, installed line-marking devices, or LMDs, on Western’s Prescott-to-Pinnacle Peak 230-kilovolt line. “This is the first time DSW Maintenance crews took on a project like this so it was a good experience for all involved,” said Line Crew Foreman III Mark DePoe.

DSW installed the LMDs because residents of Lake Watson were worried that the birds using the lake were colliding with the overhead ground wires, and asked Western to help. Although there was no evidence of bird collisions near the lines, DSW’s Environmental group decided to install the devices. “Our power lines run east and west in that area and pass just southwest of the lake. Although we haven’t seen bird causalities in the area, we agreed to install the LMDs before anything hap-pened. We pride ourselves on being good neighbors and environmental stewards,” explained DePoe.

Before installation, the line was de-energized, and crew members thoroughly inspected the overhead ground wires for damage as a safety precaution. ἀe devices are staggered 50 feet apart  on each of the overhead ground wires.

DSW installed LMDs that clamp onto overhead ground wires. They are made of light plastic and reflective tape so they can easily swivel in the wind, and since they are not stationary, they are more likely visible to birds. “The birds will see [the devices] and not collide with the overhead ground wires,” said DePoe.

Although Lake Watson residents have not experienced an outage from bird collisions on the Prescott-to-Pinnacle Peak line, animals are one of the main causes of power outages in Western’s territory. Biologist Misti Schriner shared, “Western is actively involved in Avian Power Line Interaction Committee efforts to under-stand and educate the utility industry and conservation groups about the nature of power lines and birds.”

Western’s proactive approach to the situation, coupled with the collaborative effort between Maintenance, Environment and the community, created a win-win situation for everyone.

Western works with Crow Creek Nation to repair structure

The initial topsoil removal and cutting back of the bank (notice the eroded area close to the structure footing), while Crow Creek Nation archaeological monitor looks on.

In May, floodwaters engulfed the Crow Creek Reservation located in central South Dakota, damaging several roads and struc­tures. Flash flooding eroded a ravine next to one of Western’s transmission towers located on private land within the reserva­tion boundary. The erosion endangered both the tower and the line’s operability and reliability near a 230-kilovolt steel transmission line. Had the bank caved to the edge of the footing, the tower would have begun to lean and could eventually have collapsed, cutting power to the customers who rely on the line. Western’s Upper Great Plains region employees, in cooperation with the Crow Creek Nation, worked to prevent its destruction.

Western’s Engineering and Maintenance employ­ees determined that the best way to fix the erosion problem was to use simple but effective Gabion baskets to stabilize the bank and divert water away from the structure. Gabion baskets are large wire baskets filled with rip-rap and connected together—in this instance, three tiers high— to divert the flow of water away from an eroding bank. Initially, the floor of the ravine was leveled in order for a track-hoe to cut back the bank for the placement of the baskets. Filter fabric that allows for the pas­sage of water, but not sediment, was layered between the baskets, and the soil from the excavated bank was then filled in behind the baskets. A layer of clay was then placed in the ravine in front of the baskets to prevent soil from eroding out from underneath.

The Crow Creek Nation, as stewards of the cultural resources within the reservation boundar­ies, felt that it was important to protect and preserve these sites. It’s also Western policy to preserve, protect and avoid disturbance to cultural resources whenever possible. For that reason, UGP developed several project alternatives to address the emer­gency situation without damaging the archaeological sites. Western was able to keep its construction “footprint” to a minimum, thereby reducing the amount of ground disturbance around the project area.

Field work began Nov. 2 and concluded within two weeks. Nice weather condi­tions helped the work progress quickly. Following completion of the project, Western restored the excavated bank and reintroduced the removed vegetation to the topsoil so that it has a chance to recover in spring.

Reclamation Extends Comment Period on Glen Canyon Dam Operations EIS

After receiving a number of requests, the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Park Service decided to extend the scoping period for a new Environmental Impact Statement related to the operation of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River from Dec. 30 to Jan. 31.

During the scoping period, agencies determine what factors to consider in the EIS and gather comments from the public to identify social, economic and environmental concerns and project alternatives to evaluate.

The EIS, which is jointly led by Reclamation and the Park Service, involves adopting a Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan for the Operation of Glen Canyon Dam.

The plan, the first comprehensive review of dam operations in 15 years, will ensure that regulated flows on the Colorado River meet the goals of supplying hydroelectricity and water for communities, agriculture and industry; protecting endangered species; and lessening the impact on downstream ecosystems, including the Grand Canyon and Glen Canyon.

Changes to current water flows will be evaluated as “alternatives” in the EIS.

For more information on the EIS or how to submit a comment, visit the project’s web site.