Category: Environment

Glen Canyon management plan overhaul

In an effort to improve and protect the resources of the Grand Canyon, the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Park Service initiated a public process on Nov. 7 to review the timing and volume of water flow from Glen Canyon Dam. This includes the management of the dam over the next 15 to 20 years.

A Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan will be developed to ensure that the water flow management on the Colorado River meets goals of supplying water for communities, agriculture and industry, and protecting the natural resources and fish species of the Grand Canyon, while providing hydropower.

The next step is to develop an environmental impact statement.

In addition to the meetings, written comments are being accepted through Dec. 30 of this year, with a draft study expected to be released in 2013.

More information, visit the Glen Canyon Dam website.

See the latest proposed construction projects

Western is involved with many transmission projects throughout its 15-state territory. To ensure reliable service the system often needs upgrades, additions or other modifications. So in addition to maintenance of Western’s existing infrastructure, the agency often is involved with supporting or leading proposed construction projects to keep the bulk electrical system running smoothly.

You can learn more about several construction projects Western is currently involved in on our “Infrastructure projects” webpage.

As you click through the proposed upgrades, you will see Western’s strong commitment to complying with the National Environmental Protection Act. For nearly all  projects, we conduct environmental studies to determine the impact these infrastructure projects will have on the area’s land, habitat, water, endangered and protected species  and cultural and historical resources.

From our website you can see the proposed projects and construction planned for your local area to ensure the lights stay on in your home or business.

New process save linemen time

Helicopter assists DSW linemen with insulator change.

Desert Southwest linemen show us an example of an insulator change using an N619DE helicopter. This is a relatively new work process that began early this year. It allows repairs like this to be completed very quickly resulting in shorter outage times and much less cost compared to conventional methods such as bringing in a bucket truck. All required tools and hardware are also flown into the structure tower.

DSW linemen installing new insulator

The first step is the helicopter removes the old insulator from its cradle. The pilot then flies in the new insulator and sets the end of it onto the cradle of the old insulator. The linemen guide the new insulator horizontally into the cradle as the pilot lowers it down. The linemen then attach the insulator to hardware and conductor.

Glen Canyon Dam study to help develop long-term operation plan

There are many competing needs in a river system for water. From farming irrigation and recreational activities (like boating and fishing) to environmental protection and hydropower production, these needs can be hard to prioritize and manage.

 To address operations on the Colorado River, the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Park Service and Bureau of Reclamation are developing a new Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan for Glen Canyon Dam.

 As part of the development process, the agencies will co-lead a draft environmental impact statement and public scoping process to evaluate operation alternatives and receive public comments, respectively.

Impact on hydropower production

The resulting plan could change hydropower generation output, which is marketed by Western’s Colorado River Storage Project Management Center, and possibly implement a Recovery Implementation Program for endangered fish species below Glen Canyon Dam.

According to a notice of intent in the July 6 Federal Register, the comprehensive review of dam operations – the first since 1995 – “will provide a framework for adaptively managing Glen Canyon Dam over the next 15 to 20 years consistent with the [Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992] and other provisions of applicable Federal law.”

“We need to make use of the latest science to develop and implement a structured, long-term management plan for the Glen Canyon Dam that adheres to the Law of the River, respects the interests of the tribal nations, and sustains the health of the Grand Canyon and the communities that depend on its water, consistent with the Grand Canyon Protection Act,” said Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar in a July 5 press release.

Between the dam’s completion in 1963 and 1990, dam operations strove to maximize hydropower generation. However, increasing environmental concerns of dam operations on downstream resources prompted the government to pass the GCPA, which directed DOI to conduct a study to minimize the impact of dam operations.

Following the study, a Record of Decision Oct. 9, 1996 from the Bureau implemented the current Modified Low Fluctuating Flow Alternative used today at the dam. In 1997, the Secretary of Interior adopted operating criteria for Glen Canyon Dam (62 FR 9447).

Federal agencies offered easy tool to go “greener”

Federal agencies interested in meeting their renewable energy and/or greenhouse gas goals and mandates, improving the environment and supporting national energy security are invited to join the 2011 renewable energy certificate solicitation being issued by the U.S. Department of Energy, Western Area Power Administration and Federal Energy Management Program.

Participating in this solicitation is easy: download and complete the Statement of Intent for Federal Agencies to Purchase Renewable Resources available on the Renewable Resources for Federal Agencies website. Fax or e-mail the completed form to Mike Radecki at 406-255-2900 no later than May 15. Western will competitively procure the desired RECs with FEMP covering the administrative cost of the solicitation, a savings that will accrue to the participants. To learn more about this service offered by Western and FEMP, visit the Renewable Resources for Federal Agencies website.

Join us at 10 a.m. MST on March 8, for a 45-minute webinar covering the key requirements and steps associated with this REC purchase. To register for this event, send an e-mail to Debbie Rock or call her at 720-962-7271.
To learn more about this service offered by Western and FEMP, visit the Renewable Resources for Federal Agencies website.

What are RECs?
RECs represent the environmental benefits of renewable energy, sold separately from power generation. This request on behalf of Federal agencies will help meet the government’s renewable energy goals.

Western is extending public scoping comment deadline for wind projects

Wind mills in a fieldWestern is extending the deadline for scoping comments for the proposed Hyde County Wind Energy Center and Crowned Ridge Wind Energy Center projects from Jan. 14, 2011 to midnight Jan. 31, 2011.

Western published separate Federal Register Notices of Intent to prepare Environmental Impact Statements for the Hyde County Wind Energy Center Project and the Crowned Ridge Wind Energy Center Project in November 2010. Both Notices of Intent specified a 45-day public scoping period, which would end on Jan. 14, 2011. Western received a request for an extension of the public scoping period deadline to Jan. 30, 2010, due to the holidays. Western is granting that request.

The public is invited to submit comments on either proposed project at any time during the EIS process.

For more information about the extension, see the Jan. 18 Federal Register Notice.

TransWest Express Project to hold public meetings

Western is considering a partnership on a TransWest Express project in which Western would provide the funding through Section 402 of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

The TWE project consists of about 725 to 800 miles of 600-kV direct current overhead transmission line to deliver renewable energy from Wyoming to the Desert Southwest Region. The TWE project starts near Rawlins, Wyo., through Nephi, Utah, and on to the Las Vegas, Nev., area. Western and the Bureau of Land Management published a Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement in the Federal Register on Jan. 4, initiating a 90-day public scoping period. The BLM and Western expect to hold 22 open-house meetings at various locations in Wyoming, Colorado, Utah and Nevada during the public scoping period.

BLM staff, Western staff and project proponents will be available at the public meetings to explain project details and gather information from interested individuals or groups. The exact dates, times and locations for these meetings will be announced at least 15 days before the event through local media, newspapers, newsletters and posting on the Western and BLM websites. The first round of meetings are listed on BLM’s TWE Scoping meeting schedule page.

Electricity and trees: How close is too close?

As our neighborhoods and farmlands continue to mature, so do the trees that make up and characterize the property. Yet, this majestic flora can present danger when growing near transmission lines. Unfortunately, trees growing near power lines can cause a fire, as well as pose an electrical hazard to anyone in contact with the tree at ground level. Trees don’t have to physically touch an energized power line to be dangerous. Electricity can arc from the power line to nearby trees given the right conditions, such as a voltage surge on the line from a nearby lightning strike.

At Western, we ensure our transmission line rights of way—more than 17,000 miles of high-voltage line—are safe for our employees and the public. Our transmission lines all carry electricity at voltages 50 to more than 100 times the electricity flowing in neighborhood power lines.

To keep these lines sending power to millions of homes across the West, our line crews regularly patrol the lines to make sure the equipment is in good shape and conditions on the rights of way below are safe for maintenance and energy purposes.

So how close is too close for a tree?

The National Electric Safety Code specifies the minimum distances between power lines and nearby objects—including trees—based on the line’s voltage level. The code requires greater clearances for higher voltage lines.

A graphic demonstrating how far trees should be from transmission lines of various voltages

Call it how you see it…

So the next time you’re working on your land or strolling through your neighborhood, be mindful of trees that may be too close to the power lines. If you do find one, stay clear and call your local utility. In an emergency call 911 or your local utility.

Partnering to pilot other water resources

In the desert, water is a particularly precious commodity. While Western and the Bureau of Reclamation use this valuable resource to create and market power, that is only part of the “water” story. The water in the southwest supports recreation, farming crops, natural habitats and drinking water. Yet, the continued drought—coupled with increasing population—has created an even greater need to find more water. In May, an effort to supplement the Southwest fresh water resources, Reclamation ramped up its Yuma Desalting Plant.

As part of the Yuma Desalting Plant Pilot Run, Western worked with Reclamation to purchase power to run the plant.

Set to operate 365 days within an 18-month period, the desalted water is returned to the Colorado River system, while the rejected, salty brine is used to drive the energy recovery turbines at the clearwell pumping plant before flowing to the Santa Clara Marsh, also called the Cienega de Santa Clara.

Providing power and fresh water since May, the plant has operated safely and reliably every day, giving it a 100 percent on-stream factor—the ratio of operating days to calendar days. Plant Manager Michael Norris added, “The plant has recovered 5,555 acre-feet of water (more than 1.8 billion gallons) as of June 30.” This water has been included in water deliveries to Mexico; therefore, the same amount of water has not been released from Lake Mead and remains available for use in the United States. This not only helps the Southwest, but also Mexico. The United States, Mexico and a bi-national coalition of non-governmental organizations have committed to arrange the conveyance of 10,000 acre-feet of water each to the Cienega de Santa Clara, a fragile marshland at the Gulf of California, in Mexico.

“The Pilot Run is conducted on two parallel tracks: preparing plant equipment and systems and performing compliance and consultation activities,” Norris said. Consultations included water users, environmental groups, the general public, other Federal agencies and Mexico.

Pallid sturgeon: Reeling in the big one on the job

Greg Liebelt cradles pallid female, last caught in 1997

Greg Liebelt cradles pallid female, last caught in 1997.

Western’s Upper Great Plains region has supported recovery efforts for the pallid sturgeon since 1992 when a National Recovery Plan for the endangered fish was developed.

Now, more than 18 years later Western is still keeping its commitment. In fact, Montana Environmental Protection Specialist Greg Liebelt joined forces with Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from North Dakota to recover pallid sturgeon at the confluence of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, April 26.

A total of seven boats from the two agencies, manned with two people teams, used drift nets to capture the elusive pallids. Then the pallids were taken to fish hatcheries at Miles City, Mont., and Garrison, N.D., where they can spawn and ensure the future of more pallids in the Missouri River.

Two-man boat teams use tracking devices and drift nets to capture the pallids.

Two-man boat teams use tracking devices and drift nets to capture the pallids.

During the 3-day operation, where he and his boat mate Ryan Lott, a Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks employee, were fortunate to capture three pallids, including a female last caught in 1997, a male caught last April, and an unknown sex (thought to be a female) last caught in 1996. All three fish were just under 5 feet in length and weighed between 30 to 40 pounds. In addition to the pallids, Greg and Lott caught some other fish, including six paddlefish (one around 70 pounds), one shovel nose sturgeon that was missing its’ tail fin and numerous buffalo carp. Greg said, “You never knew what you were going to find when you started pulling up the net.”

After capturing each pallid, they placed the fish in a holding tank on the boat. “Basically we used a water trough and covered it with a tarp,” explained Greg. “Then we measured each fish for length and weight. We collected blood for analysis and clipped a portion of the fin to test for Iridovirus on the pallids caught back in 1996 and 1997.

Teams used troughs as holding tanks for the pallids

Teams used troughs as holding tanks for the pallids.

Said Greg, “The opportunity to help out with the recovery efforts of the endangered pallid sturgeon was both a rare and fulfilling experience! As a fairly substantial amount of Western’s revenue is generated from the Missouri River, it is pretty awesome to see Western’s involvement towards recovering the pallid sturgeon and seeing how it is helping to make a difference.”