Jurors have had enough, with devastating Sabine River downstream floods two years in a row.
The Toledo Bend licensing agreement with the federal government has no provisions for flood control. To the chagrin of local public officials and private citizens alike, the project is just about electricity and water sales and recreation.
The Louisiana SRA showed power sales income of $2.5 million (sold to three utilities) and water sales of $6.3 million (mostly in the Calcasieu Parish industrial area) in the year ending June 30, 2017, according to an audit report released this month. Recreation park rentals yielded $1 million.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission specifically points out flood control provisions are not its concern regarding Toledo Bend, apparently leaving any such planning to the Sabine River Authorities of Louisiana and Texas.
“The ability to operate the Project for flood control is limited. Flood control is not a Project purpose. The Project was not designed as a flood control facility and lacks flood control capacity typically found at flood control reservoirs. Therefore, the Project is not operated for flood control and does not have flood management pool,” the permit paperwork stipulates.
Water level between 168 and 172 feet MSL is required by the permit, but it does allow exception to that for several circumstances, including storm or high water events. The licensees are required to file a report when reservoir levels go outside the 168-172 range, along with an explanation.
Beauregard Parish Police Jury President Rusty Williamson, whose district, along with that of Gerald McLeod, early this month again suffered from a sudden discharge of water from the impoundment, has reached the tipping point with what he considers indifference to the consequences of what he says are delayed and ill-timed discharges.
“They can know that they have a 15-inch rain coming above their lake and keep the lake full,” he said in urging the full jury to pass a resolution to begin the process of changing the rules. The jury at its Tuesday night meeting approved the resolution, and will proceed to solicit support from Vernon and Calcasieu officials, as well as state and federal officials.
A group of Beauregard and Vernon citizens attending the Tuesday night meeting applauded the jurors’ action.
Williamson wants the operating authorities to rethink their approach.
He believes it’s “just common sense” to let water out ahead of the almost-certain rain events such as provided by Tropical Storm Harvey in late August. That came just 15 months after gates were opened in the wake of record Spring 2016 rainfall, unleashing a devastating torrent downstream in Vernon, Beauregard and Calcasieu Parishes.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a 50-year licensing agreement permit to the Toledo project in 2014.
On the subject of downstream flooding, the FERC noted Toledo Bend reservoir has no storage specifically allocated for flood control.
“To manage high flow situations, in addition to monitoring flow gages (cq) and forecasts, the Authorities release flood waters according to a Spillway Operating Guide, gradually releasing more water in response to rising reservoir levels.
“To protect public safety during expected spillway releases, the Authorities are required by their Emergency Action Plan to issue periodic advisories and notify local authorities and the general public of high flow conditions on the Sabine River.
“Due to the lack of allocated flood control storage, some flooding has occurred downstream of the project along the Sabine River, and several downstream residents recommend changes to current reservoir operations to prevent future flooding. These recommended changes include pre-releasing flows prior to storm events or operating the project at lower reservoir levels to provide increased flood control.
“The Commission previously analyzed these recommendations in a separate 2002 proceeding and did not recommend adoption due to the limited ability of the project to pre-release flows prior to storms and the limited benefit that the additional flood storage would provide to the extremely flat downstream topography.
“The Environmental Impact Statement concluded that the size of the reservoir and current project operations provide some incidental flood control, but substantially lower reservoir levels associated with dedicated flood control operations would have adverse effects on water supply, power production, and recreational use.
“The EIS also stated that the recommended flood control releases could conceivably exacerbate downstream flooding if rainfall from a predicted storm falls predominantly downstream of the dam. Therefore, the license does not include the recommended flood control provisions.”
The license is a renewal of one first issued prior to the reservoir’s opening in 1969. Three power companies — Gulf States Utilities, now Entergy Texas; Louisiana Power & Light, now Entergy Louisiana; and Cleco — and the states of Louisiana and Texas combined to underwrite the project. There was no federal funding involved.
The renewal extends a waiver on charges for the use of federal public land (particularly parts of the Sabine National Forest in Texas) as long as power generated by Toledo is sold to the public without profit. That current rate set by the Louisiana Public Service Commission is $44.18 per thousand kilowatt hours.