Don't give up yet: the war wages on for clean water

Yadkin Riverkeeper is now in the fifth year of legal challenges to prevent aluminum giant Alcoa from receiving a fifty-year license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to control four hydro-power dams located on the Yadkin River. Alcoa presently monopolizes and exploits the Yadkin River’s hydroelectric capacity for its bottom line, with little in return to the people of North Carolina.

In 2010, Yadkin Riverkeeper and Stanly County Commissioners challenged Alcoa’s 401 Water Quality Certificate. NC DENR revoked Alcoa’s 401 Water Quality Certification when internal Alcoa documents were uncovered detailing Alcoa’s intentions to withhold information in the company’s 401 application regarding non-compliance for dam upgrades to meet dissolved oxygen standards—critical to the rivers health. Now Alcoa seeks another 401 Water Quality Certificate, and we need your help to make sure NC DENR makes Alcoa comply with dissolved oxygen and address contamination and public health threats.

On November 28, Division of Water Quality (DWQ) issued a public notice that Alcoa had reapplied for its 401 certification from the state, and set a comment deadline of January 18, 2013.  However, less than two weeks later, DWQ wrote to Alcoa stating that the application was incomplete and that until the company gave the missing information to the agency, the application would be placed on hold.  Alcoa has applied for a license to use these dams to generate electricity to sell wholesale, since they no longer need the electricity to run the smelter that was licensed in the 1950s by FERC. 

Final Environmental Impact Statement

DWQ also sent the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project, prepared by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in 2007, to the NC State Environmental Review Clearinghouse.  You may read the document here: Public comment period ends on February 25, 2013. 

The FEIS fails to consider the scope of environmental impacts resulting from Alcoa’s operation of the dams. The FEIS looks at fish too contaminated to eat; water too oxygen deprived for fish to live; and the exodus of jobs from the region and gives a big shrug.  This is not the hard look that the National Environmental Policy Act requires.  This is not the review that the Yadkin River deserves.  This is not the policy response that North Carolinians have a right to expect from their DENR.

Take a moment to submit your comments to Karen Higgins from NC DENR by emailing her at Include the bullet points below that highlight the failures of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Yadkin Hydroelectric Project.

  • The FEIS does not look at all the alternatives.  It looks at how the dams were allowed to be run before and how they will be allowed to be run in the future with Alcoa in charge as the sole alternative.  The FEIS never looked at the benefits to the public of public ownership or a public/private partnership running the dams.  Recent studies reported to the Uwharrie Regional Resources Commission show that jobs could be created by an alternative licensing arrangement, yet none was considered by the FEIS.  Job creation is a key socioeconomic impact and must be considered in an FEIS.
  • The FEIS also did not look at operating the dams to maximize water quality as opposed to just maximizing Alcoa profits by generating electricity to meet peak power demands.  Riverkeeper has previously urged the Division of Water Quality not to issue a 401 certificate to this project.  The water below the dams and the waters of High Rock Lake does not meet state water quality standards for dissolved oxygen at all times. The latest proposal from Alcoa in January of this year, proposes to allow continued water quality standard violations for years to come.
  • The FEIS did not examine the contamination by PCBs and hazardous wastes at the Badin Works, the town of Badin and the riverbed itself.  For more than 50 years the smelter was the Project, its impacts cannot be ignored.  New testing reported to NC DENR about this PCB contamination last year, but NC DENR has made taken no enforcement response. The FEIS pretends this documented contamination does not exist. The FEIS makes no review of fish sampling and PCB testing done by the State of North Carolina and EPA.  The fish were contaminated enough that the State issued a fish consumption advisory, but this information is not examined in the FEIS.

Thank you for taking time to act on this imperative issue. The health of the Yadkin depends on you.