Micro Hydro

What are some issues, with references, that someone would need to consider when planning to build a micro hydro plant in Oregon or Washington that they might not face in a less developed country.

Oregon, Washington, and the federal government have regulations that could affect the development of practically any micro hydro plant in either or between the two states.


Potential issues include:

  1. Damming of a water source (future flooding concerns is a potential consideration)
  2. Drilling of monitoring wells, water wells, geothermal or geotech borings
  3. Use of reclaimed water
  4. Water rights if current right does not include hydroelectric generation.
  5. Impact on navigation of a navigable waterway
  6. Impact on interstate commerce (i.e., if the system is to be connected to a regional electric transmission grid);
  7. Use of federal land
  8. Use of surplus water or waterpower from a federal dam.
  9. Location within an area classified as a National Wild and Scenic River, Wilderness Area, or National Park. Such use is prohibited by federal acts, e.g. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, (16 U.S.C. §§ 1271-1287 ) and The National Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. §§ 1131-1136 ).
  10. Discharge of dredge or fill material into a watercourse or wetland
  11. Amount of surface or ground water that would be withdrawn or diverted for the project
  12. Impact on fish or wildlife
  13. Transmission lines


For Washington projects the starting point is the Washington State Governor’s Office of Regulatory Assistance (http://www.ora.wa.gov/resources/permitting.asp). The Washington project questionnaire guides the applicant to identify which state and federal agencies would be involved in regulation, the applicable regulations, and applications to use. The expert system used is really neat. Issues 1, 2, and 3 were several I identified while completing a sample permit. Generic examples of concerns covered by the expert system include:


For Oregon projects the starting point is Oregon’s Renewable Energy Micro Hydroelectric Systems webpage (http://www.oregon.gov/ENERGY/RENEW/Hydro/Hydro_index.shtml). This page provides a good introduction for the potential microhydro user to get started by identifying where to go for specific requirements. The renewable energy website was particularly informative with the inclusion of references and texts.

The Oregon Water Resources Department (OWRD) is concerned with issue 4. OWRD’s administrative rules (http://arcweb.sos.state.or.us/rules/OARS_600/OAR_690/690_tofc.html) are linked from the Oregon renewable energy page previously noted. So also is a list of current permit holders (http://www.oregon.gov/OWRD/SW/hydro_info.shtml) with location (county and water source) and generator kw size.


The Federal Energy Regulatory Agency regulates hydro projects that fall within the scope of issues 5 to 8 above. http://www.ferc.gov/industries/hydropower/gen-info/licensing/small-low-impact/get-started/sites.asp . Issue 9 is an area where FERC is not allowed to issue permits.

FERC has only licensed 7 microturbine projects in Washington and Oregon as listed below. The next larger size project is rated at 240 kw.

Docket No.

Project Name












Cedar Creek

Cominco American Inc (Wa)

Pend Oreille River (Canada)







Sullivan Lake (Storage)

Pud No 1 Of Pend Oreille Cnty (Wa)

Sullivan Creek







South Bend T. L.

Pacificorp (Or)







Koma Kulshan T. L.

Puget Sound Energy, Inc.(Wa)

Rocky Creek







Spring Creek

Smith Lane

White Salmon River







Bigg's Creek

Pickering Frederic Earl (Wa)

Bigg's Creek







Micro Hydro

See, Brenda Wirkkala

South Fork Naselle River





The US Army Corps of Engineers website provides the requirements and directions for completing a permit request related to issue 10. (http://www.usace.army.mil/CECW/Pages/reg_permit.aspx)

Issues 11, 12 and 13 are identified since these are areas sometimes flagged for concern during reviews of environmental impact statements for water-related projects.

The Virtual Hydropower Prospector

The Idaho National Laboratory has developed a virtual hydropower prospector to identify potential sites. (https://inlportal.inl.gov/portal/server.pt?open=514&objID=1269&mode=2&featurestory=DA_62292).

Idaho National Laboratory (http://www.inl.gov/) had developed a Virtual Hydropower Prospector, that is available at http://gis-ext.inl.gov/vhp/. An introduction to the new version of the application is provided at http://hydropower.inl.gov/prospector/index.shtml.

I tried out the flat map and relief map versions which appear to be functional. According to Doug Hall, Program Manager for the project, the satellite imagery and topographic background versions still have some firewall issues that they expect to work out shortly.

If you are interested in identifying potential areas for microhydro (as well as other hydro applications), this mapping service is pretty neat. You can specify the detail level you want. The mapping program can also show you excluded areas, e.g. Wild and Scenic areas. You can also zoom into areas of interest. As you zoom in the street names will appear. You can specify substations and transmission lines also.

Regional Development of Microhydro

Samples of microhydro turbine projects developed by a regional (Deming, Washington) company are illustrated on the Canyon Hydro website (http://www.canyonhydro.com/micro/gallerymicro/microgallery.html). They have also provided a guide to help the potential new user in evaluating and setting up a project.

Additional Information on Microhydro Regulation

Additional information about permitting a micro hydroelectric system was obtained by a question (Reference 1) to the Washington State Governor’s Office of Regulatory Assistance. The additional information on Washington state regulations governing micro hydro (Reference 2) is summarized below.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) License

The specific FERC program for small scale micro hydro can be accessed on the webpage: (http://www.ferc.gov/industries/hydropower/gen-info/licensing/small-low-impact.asp). The FERC e-mail address is: smallhydro@ferc.gov for any questions.

Additional information about FERC is available on the Washington state government website (http://apps.ecy.wa.gov/permithandbook/permitdetail.asp?id=86).

Washington State Department of Ecology, Water Resources, Water Right (New)

Water Resources - In order to use the water to generate electricity Ecology will need to ensure there is enough water to generate the electricity without impacting the other water needs in the area. More information, including a link to the application, is located at: http://apps.ecy.wa.gov/permithandbook/category.asp?id=9

Water Rights - Additional information on Water Rights is provided at http://www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/rights/water-right-home.html .

Water/Shoreline Permits - Once the specifics of the project (location, size, installation), have been established, it is likely permits will be needed to work in the water. This may include a SEPA determination and shoreline permit from the local jurisdiction. A listing with links to the various shorelands and environmental forms is located at: http://www.ecy.wa.gov/biblio/forms-sea.html .

401 Water Quality Certification from the Washington State Department of Ecology deals with dredging and wetlands issues: http://apps.ecy.wa.gov/permithandbook/permitdetail.asp?id=43

Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife

Hydraulic Project Approval from the Department of Fish and Wildlife is required for any work in or near a stream. http://apps.ecy.wa.gov/permithandbook/permitdetail.asp?id=25

Joint Aquatic Resources Project Application

The Joint Aquatic Resources Project Application (JARPA - http://www.epermitting.wa.gov/) can be used to apply for all these permits. Instructions and the current form can be found at this link.

Whenever the applicant has complete details, ORA may be contacted for additional assistance.

Local Permits

Local jurisdiction permit requirements are treated under the Klickitat County Washington Zoning Ordinance No. 62678 http://www.klickitatcounty.org/planning/FilesHtml/zoning_ord.pdf


  1. E-mail, Joseph Gonyeau to Office of Regulatory Assistance, November 9, 2010, 5:12 PM
  2. E-mail, Fran Sant (Governor’s Office of Regulatory Assistance) to Joseph Gonyeau, November 11, 2010 10:33 AM

Foreign vs. US - Additional consideration

It is expected that in Washington and Oregon you will be dealing with honest government representatives that will not take bribes. You would likely be charged with a crime if you did offer a bribe. That is not necessarily the case in less developed foreign countries, in spite of the fact that the United States has rules (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act) against US nationals bribing foreign government officials.


1. Google search http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=bribing+of+foreign+government+officials


In our local area, there are a number of water sources with microhydro potential. Some (e.g. Deschutes, Hood, Klickitat, White Salmon Rivers) would be unavailable or strictly limited because of federal classification as National Wild and Scenic Rivers (http://www.rivers.gov/wildriverslist.html) and the concern about salmon habitat. Tapping off the Columbia would undoubtedly involve complex licensing processes. Use of tributaries, creeks, and streams upstream of these and other local rivers could be considered, however, dealing with the licensing requirements is not for the faint of heart. iIt is better to ask questions in advance than to learn by mistakes made and potential subsequent fines.

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