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Water Quality Program
For many years, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) monitored Leesville Lake water quality either annually or biannually. Beginning in 2006, DEQ placed Leesville Lake on a six-year rotation for water monitoring. However, DEQ collected water quality data in 2009 and 2010.
In an effort to supplement DEQ water quality monitoring, the Leesville Lake Association (LLA) began a Citizen Water Quality Monitoring Program in April 2007. Citizen volunteers monitored bacteria, Secchi depth, temperature, dissolved oxygen (DO), pH, and conductivity. LLA outlined four goals for the program:
- Gain a greater understanding of the lake’s water quality
- Supplement the DEQ water quality monitoring
- Increase the community’s awareness of the importance of water quality
- Inform residents about harmful factors that damage water quality and age the lake (Lobue, 2010)
Under the Federal Power Act (FPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy Organization Act, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has the power to approve licenses for up to 50 years for the management of non-federal hydroelectric projects (FERC, 2009, p. ii). The Commission issued the first license for the Smith Mountain Pumped Storage Project to Appalachian Power on April 1, 1960 with a set expiration date of March 31, 2010 (FERC, 2009).
As part of its relicensing process, Appalachian Power was required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to implement a Shoreline Management Plan (SMP). In July 2005, FERC approved a SMP proposed by Appalachian for the Smith Mountain Project. The purpose of this plan is “to ensure the protection and enhancement of the project’s recreational, environmental, cultural, and scenic resources and the project’s primary function, the production of electricity.” (FERC, 2009, p. 22). The SMP works to preserve green space, wetlands, and wildlife habitats along the shoreline. Property owners may not remove vegetation within the project boundary unless they have received permission from Appalachian Power.
To renew their license, Appalachian Power Company submitted an application for a new license in March 2008. In August 2009, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Smith Mountain Project relicensing. While reissuing, the Commission reviewed AEP’s methods and proposals for “the protection, mitigation of damage to, and enhancement of fish and wildlife (including related spawning grounds and habitat), the protection of recreational opportunities, and the preservation of other aspects of environmental quality.” In the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), FERC endorsed Appalachian Power’s proposed $25,000 annually to the LLA to support the on-going water quality monitoring program. The Commission approved the new license, effective April 1, 2010.
FERC recommended a few modifications to Appalachian Power’s Water Quality Monitoring Plan including a proposal to develop a lake water quality monitoring plan. FERC determined that the primary water quality issues for Smith Mountain and Leesville lakes arise from nutrients and bacteria. Rather than coming from the dams’ operations, the nutrients and bacteria come from shoreline development and overall watershed development. In conclusion, FERC recommended:
- The continuation of water-quality monitoring for Smith Mountain Lake
- The establishment of a water quality monitoring program for Leesville Lake
- Ensuring the future health of the lakes by monitoring lake quality to verify that any changes in operational strategy at the Smith Mountain project do not harm water quality