Volume 4 Issue 4 April

Hydro and Environmental Protection

By Kris Polly

Hydropower is a top source of reliable, dispatchable, carbon- free energy, but there are often concerns about its effects on aquatic species and ecosystems. While complying with federal regulations such as the Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act can be expensive and difficult, hydropower operators have embraced their regulatory challenges to address environmental issues. This month, we speak with several hydropower professionals who are putting their expertise toward ensuring that their facilities function in harmony with their ecosystem.

First, we speak with Chris Townsend, the director of natural resources and hydro licensing for the forward-looking utility Seattle City Light, which is in the middle of the federal process to renew the licenses of its Skagit River Project dams. City Light has been working for more than 5 years with federal, state, and local agencies and stakeholders, including Native American tribes, to relicense the dams in a way that takes into consideration the complex interactions between the natural environment and the humans who live and work in the watershed.

Next, we speak with Lisa Martindale and Jeff Smyth, who serve respectively as the president and the executive director of the Hydropower Research Institute (HRI). Big data has the potential to inform and improve hydropower operations and decision-making. However, to make this approach truly useful, entities must pool their investments and data. HRI was founded in 2018 so that several large utilities could collect, aggregate, and anonymize their data to make a dataset sufficiently large to carry out higher-level analytics.

Mary Gail Sullivan won the National Hydropower Association’s prestigious Henwood Award in 2022 in recognition of her long-term leadership in the hydropower industry. In our interview, she tells us more about her role as the director of environmental and lands permitting and compliance for NorthWestern Energy, where she oversees relicensing and compliance for the company’s hydro fleet.

In 2020, Canada-based company Innovasea began developing a tagless fish detection technology that can detect, count, and classify fish in real time using a combination of imaging sonar, optical cameras, and artificial intelligence. We interview Vice President of Research and Development Jean Quirion and Communications Director Doug Hanchett about the new technology’s uses for hydro owners and operators.

We also talk to Joshua Murauskas of Four Peaks Environmental Science & Data Solutions, a new, Pacific Northwest–based consultancy specializing in fisheries and water quality issues and compliance with federal regulations.

Worthington Products manufactures a wide range of debris and safety booms and warning signs for dams and hydropower facilities. We speak with President and CEO Paul Meeks to learn more about the company’s hydro-specific products.

Finally, we speak with Shannon Ames, the executive director of the Low Impact Hydropower Institute (LIHI), a nonprofit that certifies hydropower projects that have avoided or reduced their environmental impacts. LIHI has certified nearly 300 powerhouses and dams on 102 rivers in 24 states, and its criteria are considered stringent enough that the State of Massachusetts uses its certification process as a proxy for its own statutory environmental thresholds.

We are grateful to this month’s interviewees and to the many hydro professionals whose hard work is helping to ensure that hydropower is and remains an environmentally friendly source of power. Hydropower has a bright future because of it.

Kris Polly is the editor-in-chief of Hydro Leader magazine and the president and CEO of Water Strategies LLC, a government relations firm he began in February 2009 for the purpose of representing and guiding water, power, and agricultural entities in their dealings with Congress, the Bureau of Reclamation, and other federal government agencies. He may be contacted at kris.polly@waterstrategies.com.