Alcoa asks federal officials for permission to cut downstream releases from Yakins lakes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

With drought conditions worsening in central North Carolina, Alcoa has asked federal officials for permission to cut by almost 30 percent the volume of water it releases from its Yadkin River reservoirs.
In a press release issued Wednesday, Alcoa officials said the company and Progress Energy are working through the Yadkin Drought Management Team to protect lake levels, public water intakes and downstream flows.
The Drought Management Team was established following the severe drought of 2002 to increase collaboration among stakeholders in the Yadkin-Pee Dee river basin. It is a voluntary group that includes federal and state agencies, industry and community groups and the two companies that own hydroelectric projects on the river.
With the team’s support and approval, Alcoa has asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for permission to keep more water in the Yadkin lakes. The company submitted a request this week to reduce the amount of water it is required to send downstream from a 1,400 to 1,000 cubic feet per second.
That’s a 28.6 percent reduction in the average weekly downstream flow.
Federal officials should respond to the request in one or two weeks, Alcoa officials said.
Alcoa’s request is part of a “low-inflow protocol” that will be included in Alcoa’s new license for the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project, including High Rock, Tuckertown, Badin (or Narrows) and Falls reservoirs.
Although a new license has yet to be issued, Alcoa is voluntarily following many of the plan’s recommendations to minimize the impact of the drought, the company said in its release.
For more than a year, Alcoa and Progress Energy, which operates Lake Tillery and Blewett Falls reservoirs, have voluntarily reduced power generation.
“The Drought Management Team, Alcoa-Yadkin and Progress Energy deserve credit for taking voluntarily proactive steps to address the drought,” Todd Ewing, an official with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission, said in the press release. “The Yadkin-Pee Dee basin has been in better shape than surrounding basins throughout the drought because of the quick action Alcoa-Yadkin and Progress Energy took last year to voluntarily implement parts of the low-inflow protocol.
“The two companies’ willingness to voluntarily implement portions of the low-inflow protocol as a guide again this year will help protect the reservoirs and riverine interests as the drought continues. These actions underscore both companies’ stewardship of the resources of the Yadkin-Pee Dee River.”
Alcoa officials said the company has focused on limiting downstream flows to keep as much water as possible in the Yadkin reservoirs for recreational users. Progress Energy has adjusted its operating schedule to release 1,000 cubic feet per second daily from its Blewett Falls reservoir to protect public water system intakes that draw from the YadkinńPee Dee system. This action enables public water systems and downstream industry to have a dependable quantity of water each day.
Those measures, however, can’t completely make up for the extended lack of rain, the companies said.
Marshall Olson, environmental and natural resources manager for Alcoa, said sunny skies that attract so many people to the Yadkin lakes are having an unintended effect this year.
“We need a lot more rain, plain and simple,” Olson said. “The ground is exceptionally dry right now, and the dry soil is soaking up the rainfall before it can flow into the river and help raise water levels.”
The prolonged drought has hit central North Carolina exceptionally hard. The Yadkin-Pee Dee watershed is currently experiencing extreme drought conditions, the second most severe stage of drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor.
While many N.C. cities and towns have relaxed water conservation measures since last year, the Yadkin Drought Management Team encourages residents to do their part in voluntarily reducing water consumption, officials said Wednesday.