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By Amanda Eggert, Montana Free Press

Madison River dam malfunction

In a citizens’ complaint filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the groups call for swift and independent investigation into November’s dewatering of the Madison River.

Three environmental groups filed a citizens’ complaint today requesting a formal investigation into the Hebgen Dam malfunction that dewatered the Madison River for nearly 48 hours late last year. The groups filed the complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which administers the hydropower license NorthWestern Energy uses to operate the Dam.

The malfunction stemmed from the failure of part of the 108-year-old dam’s outflow gate that dropped it into a mostly closed position on Nov. 30, rapidly reducing stream flows from about 650 cubic feet per second to less than 200 cfs and generating concerns about aquatic impacts. Biologists say the sudden drop killed an unknown number of trout and sculpin that were stranded in shallow channels and pools, and that brown trout eggs on the Upper Madison may have been compromised when they were exposed to freezing temperatures.

Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, the Montana Environmental Information Center and the Madison River Foundation said in a release about the complaint that “it is critical that a formal, nonpartisan process ask [questions about long-term ecological and economic impacts] and investigate lasting solutions now.”

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