Setting the Standard for Future Hydropower Development
It is fair to state that most hydropower developments never satisfactorily complete the FERC process and do not obtain a license. The FERC licensing process is demanding, time consuming, and expensive. Many development failures are the result of projects that are unable to balance the economic needs of the project without adversely affecting the surrounding environment. Understandably, over the years, hydropower development designs have been viewed with a critical eye. Most failures are due to poor sites being selected for hydropower development, or the result of poor development leadership that attempts to extract the power resource without synchronizing the development with nature and the natural surroundings. Recognizing the failure of others, our design and development philosophy is straightforward with open and transparent communication with agencies and the public, to not only ensure we mitigate, minimize and avoid our impact, but to ensure that we actually enhance and harmonize our design with nature. This is a form of ecological engineering where our design works with nature…not against it. We take our commitment to our community and to the environment seriously. As a result, we have chosen to design and build our facility to a higher standard.
Sweetheart Lake will deliver electricity to power the businesses and residents of Juneau through a process that burns no fossil fuels, creates no pollution, is completely renewable each year, harms no fish or wildlife, and actually enhances the Sweetheart Lake habitat as a fishery.
Positive Outcomes of our Development Process
During this multi-year process numerous and multiple reviews by the US Forest Service, Alaska Fish and Game, Alaska DEC, Alaska DNR, US Dept. of Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, NOAA-National Marine Fisheries, the Army Corp of Engineers that includes 25 separate federal, state, tribal, local jurisdictions or agencies and public NGO’s. Each agency or organization had input into the environmental impact statement (EIS) process, which was a major part of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licensing process.
Our strategy to development is growing in acceptance within the hydropower development community because it integrates community values into a hydropower project. Many of the methods, approaches, and innovative design features we developed have already been studied and incorporated into other projects. This is how we believe responsible hydropower development and construction should be conducted in the norm and we are hopeful that our design will, in some small part, help to reinvigorate a 130-year-old industry that must be part of our world’s carbon neutral future.
Innovative Roadless Design
The Sweetheart Lake site is located in a federally designated Roadless Area. Since the 2001 Roadless Rule went into effect, the Forest Service has prohibited road construction in federally designated “roadless” areas. This rule has affected development in the Tongass National Forest.
A tunnel is an innovative road alternative. Hydropower projects require access to their site in order to move material, equipment and labor to build the development. This “access” typically requires many miles of “switchback road” to gain access to the dam site. In fact, all previous governmental studies of the Sweetheart Lake Hydroelectric resource determined that a multi-mile switchback road was required. Building this road would have meant the creation of an unattractive and treacherous road that would have contributed to serious erosion and water quality issues traversing sensitive habitat and wetlands. Collaboratively, our managers, environmental scientists, and engineers came up with an innovative way to get the access we needed without building a lake access road with habitat and scenery degradation. The power requirements of the resource require a 9 ft. X 9 ft. diameter tunnel to convey water from the lake to the powerhouse. By building a larger tunnel (15 ft. X 15 ft. horseshoe design tunnel) and creating a “side tap” to the lake we are able to move material and equipment to the lake, build the necessary infrastructure and then remove all the equipment, leaving a pristine environment with “no” road.
In this manner, we have eliminated a requirement to place a road in a designated roadless area while simultaneously preserving the scenic integrity of Gilbert Bay. Subsequent to our design and publishing our process, our tunnel methodology to avoid the use of a road has been copied in other hydropower applications.
Giving Sockeyes a Lift
Juneau is blessed to have a popular personal use sockeye fishery that is supported by the Douglas Island Pink and Chum (DIPAC) hatchery. Since the advent of this stocking program that was initiated in 1988, this “no deposit-no return” stocked fishery has supplied many Juneau households access to sockeye salmon that can be dip netted or cast netted.
This fishery is supplied sockeye salmon from DIPAC operations. Approximately 500,000 sockeye fry are placed in Sweetheart Lake. These fry overwinter in the lake and then outmigrate as smolt the following spring. These outmigrating smolts suffer from the treacherous bypass reach that is littered by many cascading falls and rocks that injure outmigrating sockeye smolt. In any given year, and depending on water levels and velocity, outmigrating smolts suffer anywhere from 50% to 80% mortality.
Juneau Hydropower and DIPAC is implementing a sockeye collection and outmigration system that has been collaboratively developed with the DIPAC hatchery to collect, capture and then transport the outmigrating sockeye to a smolt re-entry pool located adjacent to the powerhouse and then released through the tailrace near the existing barrier falls. This system is intended to reduce the mortality of outmigrating sockeye smolt and could lead to increases in returning salmon.
Our investment and annual operations of our Juneau Hydropower/DIPAC salmon collection and outmigration system and effort is considerably more than what would normally be required, but we chose to do so in keeping with our philosophy to enhance the environment and uphold Juneau’s community values of providing a robust personal use sockeye fishery.
Recreational Enhancement and Protection
Juneau Hydropower understands how important good recreation areas are to the quality of life of Juneau. We also know how special the Sweetheart Creek area is and how important it is to maintain its wild character. That is why we are building a 30-foot high mound around our powerhouse to mask any light, noise and reduce the scenic impact on the area.
Another important measure is that our tailrace (where our water exits the powerhouse) will increase the stream length fishing area for sockeye that will decongest some of the human crowding and help decrease the human bear interactions. Visualize a Japanese water garden for salmon and that is the best picture you can have on how we plan to build our tailrace that works in concert with the Sweetheart Creek anadromous reach.
Additionally, we plan on building trail improvements and assist with boat access in Gilbert Bay. We also are burying the powerline that runs from the powerhouse along a small coastal road to keep powerlines out of the way of eagles and waterfowl that reside in the area.