Southern California Edison has agreed to pay $3 million in a settlement with state water regulators after a maintenance project at Shaver Dam resulted in the death of thousands of fish.
The utility company was accused by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife of violating the Clean Water Act and the California Fish and Game Code.
State officials said the problem started when Southern California Edison began a repair project at Shaver Lake Dam in 2011 and 2012. The utility uses the lake and dam as part of its Big Creek hydroelectric system, which produces power and delivers water for beneficial use.
As part of the maintenance project, the utility allegedly discharged highly muddy water downstream, causing thousands of fish to be killed. The state also accused SCE of causing irreparable damage to downstream aquatic habitat.
SCE officials said the project was being done to prevent leaks within the dam and to shore up its structural integrity. Part of the work required water to be completely drained from the base of the dam and sediment needed to be temporarily excavated.
“While SCE regrets the release of sediment into Stevenson Creek and the subsequent loss of fish, SCE disagrees with the characterization of the environmental damage to the stream as permanent and has admitted no violations by agreeing to the settlement,” company officials said in a statement.
“However, consistent with its commitment to environmental protection, SCE has taken measures to minimize the environmental impact of future dam safety.”
High levels of sediment in the water can cloud water, blocking sunlight from entering and making it difficult for fish and other aquatic life to survive.
As part of the settlement, Southern California Edison agrees to pay $2,077,053 to the Central Valley Water Board for the alleged Water Code violations, and $922,947 to the Department of Fish and Wildlife to resolve alleged Fish and Game Code violations.
Of the $2,077,053 paid to the Central Valley Water Board, $1,038,553 will go to the State Water Resources Control Board’s Cleanup and Abatement Account. The remaining amount will be split equally to fund several environmental projects implemented by the Rose Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation benefiting communities in Kern, Madera, Fresno and Tulare counties. These environmental projects will address water quality issues and habitat restoration.