Data Access, Analytics, and Workforce Development

Project Name: Environmental Decision Support: Science-Based Tools for Hydropower Stakeholder Collaboration

Project Team: Oak Ridge National Laboratory (lead), Kearns & West, a mission advisory board, and a science advisory board

Lead Recipient Location: Oak Ridge, Tennessee

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Over the past year, Oak Ridge National Laboratory led a project team that developed a new tool—an online, interactive, and science-based River Function Indicator Questionnaire—to provide hydropower stakeholders with a systematic and transparent method for identifying the potential environmental impacts of a hydropower project. The tool’s questions address a checklist of 42 river function indicators derived from an extensive literature review of environmental metrics. This review integrated the viewpoints of multiple types of hydropower stakeholders and the scientific research community. Stakeholders—including a hydropower owner/operator, several environmental nongovernmental organizations, and a federal agency—are currently conducting pilot tests in New Hampshire, Vermont, and Kansas.

Most privately owned U.S. hydropower facilities are required to obtain an operating license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). This licensing process is heavily stakeholder driven and typically takes five to seven years per project. During the study negotiation phase of the licensing process, environmental and energy stakeholders, as well as regulators from tribal, state, and federal agencies, must collaboratively determine the proposed project’s impacts and whether any additional studies or mitigation will be required. Applicants have indicated this is one of the most challenging parts of the FERC licensing process due to the diverse priorities and perspectives among hydropower stakeholders, which can lead to communication breakdowns and delays. The new River Function Indicator Questionnaire, part of the Environmental Decision Support Toolkit, is designed to support hydropower stakeholders during the licensing process by giving everyone at the negotiating table a standardized set of metrics.

Data Access, Analytics, and Workforce Development Projects