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WWRC 96-11
Approaching a Gordian Knot: The Ongoing State/Federal Conflict Over Hydropower


Rivers mean different things to different people. Rivers are home and habitat to fish and wildlife. They are a means both of transportation and of waste disposal. They can be a source of spiritual regeneration. They can also be a source of power production. They provide life and they can take it away.

Given the multitude of expectations associated with rivers and the institutional structures that have developed to fulfill those expectations, conflict is inevitable. At an institutional level, one of the more significant conflicts is between the states and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC" or "Commission"). Historically, states have held primacy over the management and allocation of water resources. Under federal law, the Commission has jurisdiction over hydroelectric power, the development of which requires the utilization of water resources.

This institutional conflict has become progressively more acrimonious as an increasing number of federal and state requirements affect the management and allocation of water resources. Addressed in this article is the ongoing state/FERC conflict over hydropower. The background of the conflict and an illustrative case are examined in Section II. Specific conflict areas are discussed in Section III. The state/FERC conflict is examined in the context of the Park City Principles in Section IV. Potential solutions are proposed in Section V and conclusions are presented in Section VI.

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