A Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ruling published today will require the Homestake Mining Company to get a federal license in order to continue operating two dams on Spearfish Creek and Little Spearfish Creek in the Black Hills of South Dakota. FERC found that many of the power lines and other facilities used to transmit the water and electricity are on federal lands, one of the conditions requiring federal dam licensing. Homestake Mining Company has been operating the two dams for about 80 years in Spearfish Canyon with no license.
The Spearfish Creek cuts a spectacular gorge through western South Dakota with bluffs from 600 to 1,000 feet high looming over the river gorge below. Little Spearfish Creek, a tributary of Spearfish Creek, was the site of some of the most outstanding scenery in the movie Dances With Wolves. This is one of the only places where species common to both the prairie and the Rockies are found in the same place.
The Homestake Mining Company’s dams divert river water into pipes for hydropower, de-watering almost 20 miles of river and creek. In 2000 Earthjustice attorney Jay Tutchton took legal action to force FERC to order Homestake to get a federal license for the dams.
Earthjustice and its clients succeeded in convincing the federal government that Homestake’s pre-1930 permits were no longer valid and therefore Homestake will have to get a current license for its powerplants. Licensing of the dams will likely lead to modification of dam operations to require that at least some water is returned to portions of the river the dams have left high and dry.
“We’re hopeful that forcing Homestake into the modern era will force the return of water into Spearfish Creek,” said Tutchton. “These outdated power plants should be preserved as historic structures but the public is much better served by having a free flowing river.”
Earthjustice represented Action for the Environment and The Spearfish Canyon Preservation Trust in this case.