Groups file complaints about Hebgen Dam malfunction


BOZEMAN – A citizens’ complaint was filed against NorthWestern Energy about a dam fault on the Hebgensee in December 2021.

The Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) says the dam’s owner, Northwestern Energy, in Butte, should be held responsible for the accident. The environmental group is calling on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to require Northwestern to pay for an independent investigation into the dam’s malfunction. The incident reduced water flow in the Madison River by 57 percent in 15 minutes.

According to the MEIC, the federal agency should consider setting up a fund to support ecological restoration projects on the river and a long-term study of the impact on the catchment area.

MEIC joined the complaint from Upper Missouri Waterkeeper and the Madison River Foundation.

Northwestern Energy tells MTN that it completed a $ 40 million dam upgrade in 2018 and has already submitted a report to the FERC.

From MEIC:

BOZEMAN, MT – Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, Montana Environmental Information Center, and the Madison River Foundation filed a citizen complaint [] on January 5, 2022, with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for NorthWestern Energy’s failure to comply with the terms of the Hebgen Dam license that resulted in the drainage of the Upper Madison River on November 30th.

“This formal complaint is the means to hold NorthWestern Energy accountable for the dam’s failure, a thorough third-party impact study and targeted action to restore the river and downstream communities to full,” said Guy Alsentzer, Executive Director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. “Two major outages in fifteen years at NorthWestern’s Hebgen Dam are raising the alarm, calling for much-needed additional monitoring and redundancy to protect river ecology and downstream economies that depend directly on stable runoff.”

NorthWestern Energy, the dam’s owner and operator under federal license No. P-2188, issued by FERC, violated two permit terms when the gate broke and drastically reduced the outflows from the Hebgen Reservoir. The regulations violated were (1) maintaining a minimum continuous flow of 600 cubic feet per second (cfs) at USGS Gauge No as 10 percent per day for year-round. The USGS meter at Hebgen Dam measured a drop in discharge from 648 cfs to 278 cfs in 15 minutes (a 57% reduction) and a maximum reduction to 216 cfs (a 67% reduction) within a 24-hour period. Period. Similarly, the Madison River drains at Kirby Ranch fell below the Article 403 minimum of 600 cfs and eventually decreased to 395 cfs.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, Montana Environmental Information Center, and the Madison River Foundation request that the FERC require Northwestern Energy to conduct a thorough third-party investigation of the malfunction and hold the agent responsible for taking the necessary steps to ensure that this tragedy is an isolated one Event is.

“As a public utility, NorthWestern Energy must be held accountable for the mismanagement of Montana’s natural resources, especially our water,” said Derf Johnson, staff attorney and clean water director at MEIC. “NorthWestern must cooperate fully in a comprehensive and transparent investigation, mitigate our environmental, social and economic impact, take steps to ensure this never happens again, and pay to fix the problem out of its shareholders’ pockets.”

If FERC determines that there is a good reason to initiate an investigation, the complaint will trigger a formal process, overseen by FERC, to investigate the breach of the dam and the adequacy of Northwestern’s supervisory and monitoring equipment used for drainage One of Montana’s most famous blue ribbon trout streams have run during the critical spawning season. Another outcome could be the creation of targeted funding to support ecological restoration projects and help affected downstream actors.

“We are committed to our members, the Montanans and the Madison River, to protect its vital rivers and to be responsible stewards in maintaining a healthy watershed,” said Jonathan Malovich, executive director of the Madison River Foundation. “This is just one step in the right direction among many more that will change the way we can all protect and manage the water that flows down the Madison River.”

As the long-term environmental and economic impact of Hebgen Dam drainage on the Upper Madison River may remain unknown in the years to come, it is important that a formal, impartial process ask these questions and seek sustainable solutions now. The lawsuit filing is separate from ongoing public correspondence from Northwestern Energy and FERC in late December 2021 regarding the Upper Madison Dam breach, and is specifically focused on addressing environmental degradation.

From NWE:

An investigation into the November 30th gate failure of the Hebgen Dam is underway.

NorthWestern Energy has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the system since acquiring 11 dams in Montana in 2014. These investments have increased production capacity, improved fish passage through the dam system, modernized infrastructure and created more recreational opportunities. This investment includes a $ 40 million upgrade to Hebgen Dam, which was completed in 2018.

On November 30, a component of a gate on the Hebgen Dam – which was installed during the modernization project in 2015 – failed.

NorthWestern Energy has submitted reports of the failure to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and is working with our state regulator and others to ensure a thorough analysis of the gate component. The analysis, based on solid engineering principles, is used to understand why this relatively new part failed and to determine corrective actions.

NorthWestern Energy will also work with biologists from the Resource Agency and others to develop scientific studies to assess the impact on fisheries.


Malfunction of the Hebgen Dam leads to a drop in the water level; brings community together to save trout

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