July 4, 2008

Federal Commission Requests Information on Smith Lake Water Levels, Flow

By Bayne Hughes, The Decatur Daily, Ala.

Jul. 4--A group fighting Alabama Power about Smith Lake water levels hopes a federal regulatory commission's request is the first step toward getting the company to keep the levels more consistent.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asked for more information Wednesday from Alabama Power on reservoir elevations and flow releases for Smith Lake.

The commission also asked for a description on how a more stable reservoir would affect water interests in the lake.

The Smith Lake Improvement and Stakeholders Association is a group of homeowners, developers and others who live on the lake and have been trying to get Alabama Power to steady the waters.

The group has been battling the company for the past three years because of complaints that heavy lake fluctuations damage property, reduce property values of homes worth millions of dollars and hurt fishing.

The request, which the commission wants fulfilled within 45 days of the letter dated July 2, is part of a review of the environmental assessment in Alabama Power's Warrior River Hydroelectric Project re-licensing application. Alabama Power is working on a year-to-year license.

Jared Key, president of the association, claimed the request as a win. He said the request makes it apparent that the commission is listening to his association's complaint that Alabama Power is mismanaging the lake and ignoring the impact on landowners.

"We now feel like they're listening and asking valid questions that we feel deserve an answer," Key said.

Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman called the request "routine," just as he did when the commission delayed consideration of the company's application for a 50-year license in September 2007.

'Not unusual'

"This is not unusual," Sznajderman said. "FERC asked for additional information on the Warrior and Coosa, too, during the re-license process."

The commission asked Alabama Power to:

--Submit an analysis of water surface elevations and flow releases for the Smith Lake development of the Warrior River Project.

The commission wants the analysis so it can evaluate the stakeholders association's proposal to maintain Smith Lake at between 505 feet and 510 feet above sea level between Memorial Day and Labor Day, and never below 502 feet.

The letter said the analysis should include a simulation of water surface elevations and downstream flows for three years representing high, medium and low flow years.

The commission also wants information on flow releases and how they affect cross sections downstream of Smith dam, including the area that captures flows to Gorgas Steam Plant.

The association contends Alabama Power should build a holding tower at Gorgas, which the group said would allow the company to keep Smith Lake more level.

Sznajderman said Alabama Power contends such a tower would be too expensive and would not accomplish the association's goal.

--Describe how a more stable reservoir would affect the water interests like Gorgas, navigation downstream of Smith Lake and flood control. This description should quantify how it would change power generation at Smith Lake and Bankhead developments.

The commission wants to know how stability would impact largemouth bass spawning and a rainbow trout fishery downstream of Smith Lake.

The description should also include effects on municipal or industrial supplies, water quality and the ability to meet pollutant discharge limits downstream of the lake.

Sznajderman said his company should not have any problem meeting the commission's request. Alabama Power will have to use existing studies, computer models and historic data.

Key said his association planned to submit its own Smith Lake analysis Monday, but decided to wait on Alabama Power's report.

He said the association would like to reach a compromise with Alabama Power, but the company has not been willing to move off its position that Smith Lake was created to generate hydroelectric power.

'Do what they want'

"The truth is we would love to work with them, but the position has always been it's their lake and they'll do what they want to with it," Key said. "We believe it's the people of Alabama's lake, and we should have input into how it's run."


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