Huge power plant at Lower Bear and Salt Springs Reservoirs proposed.

For generations, camping, fishing, hunting, hiking and boating at Salt Springs, Lower Bear River Reservoir, along the North Fork Mokelumne River and in surrounding public land has been popular with locals and visitors alike. Visiting the Mokelumne Wilderness and our Wild and Scenic Mokelumne River provides the opportunity for recreation, peace and quiet in a natural forested environment that many enjoy. However now our access to these resources would be severely limited and our enjoyment of them impaired if a major proposed power plant project is
approved as proposed.

GreenGen, a private developer, recently released a study report on a proposed 400 MW hydroelectric plant and a 2 mile tunnel between Salt Springs and Lower Bear River Reservoirs. The private, for profit developers are applying to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for approval to build and operate this massive project. GreenGen’s proposed pumped storage project would move water from the Mokelumne River at Salt Springs up to Lower Bear River Reservoir when power prices are low, store it in Bear and return it to Salt Springs to
generate power at a profit when power prices are higher.

The Foothill Conservancy and many other groups and resource agencies are very concerned about the impacts of construction and operation of such a large power project would have on water supplies, recreation, fish and wildlife that depend on the Mokelumne watershed. We have been participating in review of the developer’s proposal with other groups and agencies, and objecting to any degradation of our rights to preserve and enjoy these treasured local resources. The developer has proposed to close for the public many of the roads that access the campgrounds, boat ramps, day use areas and cabins at Lower Bear and Salt Springs Reservoirs and along the Mokelumne River for the at least a three year construction period, and to re-construct some roads to accommodate large truck traffic. These roads are the only way most of us can access these resources in Eldorado National Forest – public lands we all own
and enjoy. We would be shut out for at least 3 years if this proposal is approved.

The project study reports that drilling, blasting and removal of 1,000,000 cubic yards of rock (equal to a football field piled up about 150 feet tall) for the tunnel and power plant would result in at least 3 years of large truck traffic in the Mokelumne canyon and around Lower Bear and Salt Springs during recreation season. Foothill Conservancy has requested more study to determine what disturbances, noise, emissions, and erosion would be created and how
campers, boaters, fishermen, hikers, and wildlife would be affected by all this activity.

After construction, operating the proposed project would cause the water levels in Lower Bear River Reservoir to change by up to 3 feet daily, causing shoreline locations to frequently change, affecting boating, fishing, camping and day use recreation. The potential impacts on water supply, quality and temperature are also of concern to Foothill Conservancy, as well as to the Amador Water Agency and East Bay MUD, who rely on the Mokelumne to provide drinking water.

While the project could help the electric grid better manage wind and solar power generation, it’s not clear that this energy storage alternative is a cost effective one. Once the cost of all the grid upgrade costs to connect such a huge power plant in such a remote location are considered, other alternatives like battery storage, load management and pumped storage located closer to load centers may well cost ratepayers less money and have far fewer environmental impacts.

These are still early days for this proposal. So far, there are not sufficient water rights for this proposal, no agreement with PG&E to use their existing reservoirs and power lines, no agreement with the Forest Service on use of federal lands, and no license from the FERC. So there’s lots of time for the public to get involved and provide input to the studies of the proposal.

Our Mokelumne River and lakes are beautiful, sensitive and treasured. Let’s protect them.

To get more information contact Foothill Conservancy at fhc@foothillconservancy.org or visit us foothillconservancy.org/watersheds. If you sign up for our newsletter you’ll get regular updates
on this important issue.

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Leslie Smith, Sutter Creek, CA: Raised in Washington State, Leslie is a happy California transplant having moved to Sunny Sutter Creek full time in 2020. As a nascent fly fisher and lifelong skier, she is committed to the natural environment and brings extensive organizational and finance experience to the board from a nearly 40 year career in banking.