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By Brett French, Billings Gazette

Hebgen aerial

Following a gate failure at Hebgen Dam in December that dewatered the Madison River for 46 hours, NorthWestern Energy is proposing to improve spawning habitat on tributaries and help monitor fish populations and spawning bed locations as part of its mitigation plan.

The details of the company’s proposal are outlined in a March 23 letter NorthWestern sent to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) secretary Kimberly Bose. FERC oversees dam operations and licensing. The agency has 60 days to respond to NorthWestern.

The proposals don’t seem likely to satisfy conservation groups that have asked FERC to employ an impartial third party to investigate the incident and the effects of the dewatering.

“The long-term impacts of this devastating dewatering event need to be understood, not flushed down the river and ignored,” Quincey Johnson, outreach director for Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, wrote in an email. “An independent investigation to understand the impacts on this world-class fishery and the downstream communities that rely on a healthy Madison River is the only responsible way to hold NorthWestern Energy accountable and provide additional monitoring and redundancy to ensure it never happens again.”

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