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By John Sherer, KBZK Bozeman


BOZEMAN – A citizen’s complaint has been filed against NorthWestern Energy over a dam malfunction at Hebgen Lake in December 2021.

Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) says the owner of the dam, Northwestern Energy, in Butte, should be held accountable for the mishap. The environmental group is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to require Northwestern to pay for an independent investigation of the dam malfunction. The incident reduced water flow in the Madison river by 57 percent within fifteen minutes.

MEIC says the federal agency should consider creating a fund to support ecological restoration projects on the river and a long-term study of the impact on the watershed.

MEIC was joined in the complaint by Upper Missouri Waterkeeper and the Madison River Foundation.

Northwestern Energy tells MTN it completed a $40 million modernization of the dam in 2018 and has already submitted a report to the FERC Northwestern says it is taking action to prevent a repeat of the gate failure, which led to the mishap.

From MEIC:

BOZEMAN, MT – Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, Montana Environmental Information Center, and the Madison River Foundation filed a citizens complaint [uppermissouriwaterkeeper.org] on Jan. 5, 2022, with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding NorthWestern Energy’s failure to uphold the conditions of Hebgen Dam’s license that resulted in the November 30 dewatering event on the Upper Madison River.

“This formal complaint is the means for holding NorthWestern Energy accountable for its dam’s failure, a thorough third-party investigation of impacts, and targeted action to make the river and downstream communities whole again,” said Guy Alsentzer, Executive Director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper. “Two significant flow failures in fifteen years at NorthWestern’s Hebgen Dam sound the alarm call for much needed additional monitoring and redundancy to protect the river ecology and downstream economies that are directly dependent on stable outflows.”

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