Big Creek Hydroelectric System

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Project Nos. 67, 120, 2017, 2085, 2086, 2174, and 2175

Big Creek
Big Creek Powerhouse No.1
(Photo courtesy of State Water Board staff)
(click to enlarge)

Applicant: Southern California Edison Company (SCE)
County: Fresno and Madera
Water Quality Certification Status: Six Big Creek Hydroelectric Projects – Issued May 31, 2019
and Big Creek No. 4 – Issued June 13, 2003
Water Bodies: Upper San Joaquin River and its tributaries.
FERC Licensing Processes:
FERC Project Nos. 2017, 2086, 2174 – Traditional Licensing Process
FERC Project Nos. 67, 120, 2085, 2175 – Alternative Licensing Process


The Big Creek Hydroelectric System is an integrated system of seven individually licensed hydroelectric projects with operations coordinated to maximize the value of hydropower produced from available water supply.

FERC Project No. 67 (Big Creek Nos. 2A, 8, and Eastwood )
FERC Project No. 120 (Big Creek No. 3)
FERC Project No. 2017 (Big Creek No. 4)
FERC Project No. 2085 (Mammoth Pool)
FERC Project No. 2086 (Vermillion Valley)
FERC Project No. 2174 (Portal)
FERC Project No. 2175 (Big Creek Nos. 1 and 2)

The system consists of nine major powerhouses, six major reservoirs, numerous dams and small diversions, various water conveyance facilities, access roads, electrical transmission lines, and other appurtenant facilities. The Big Creek Hydroelectric System is owned and operated by the Southern California Edison Company (SCE). All system facilities lie within the upper San Joaquin River watershed on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, at elevations ranging from 1,000 to 9,000 feet above mean sea level. The combined authorized generation capacity of the seven projects in the Big Creek Hydroelectric System is 949.405 megawatts (MW).

Big Creek Figure 1 Map
(click to enlarge)

The original federal hydropower licenses for the seven projects in SCE’s Big Creek Hydroelectric System were issued in the early-1900’s. The first of these licenses expired in 1997, with the remainder expiring between 2003 and 2009. SCE began the relicensing process in 1997 when it filed an application for a new major license for the Big Creek No.4 Project using FERC’s Traditional Licensing Process (TLP). The TLP is a licensing process in which consultation with stakeholders and involved regulatory and resource agencies occurs in three distinct stages. SCE has since filed for new licenses for the remaining six projects in the Big Creek Hydroelectric System – two using the TLP and four using FERC’s Alternative Licensing Process (ALP). In contrast to the TLP, the ALP is a more collaborative process in which the applicant and FERC staffs engage involved stakeholders and resource agencies early in the process, often resulting in the development of a Settlement Agreement intended to resolve issues associated with the relicensing of hydropower facilities.

The State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) was not involved with the issuance of the original FERC licenses for the Big Creek hydroelectric projects because they were issued prior to the existence of the Federal Clean Water Act (CWA). Under its CWA Section 401 authority, the State Water Board reviews hydropower license applications and issues water quality certifications (i.e., 401 water quality certifications) to ensure projects comply with state water quality standards and other applicable provisions of the CWA. The water quality certification is incorporated into FERC license orders.

The State Water Board has been an active participant in the Big Creek relicensing process since 1997 when SCE applied for water quality certification for the Big Creek No. 4 Project. The State Water Board issued a water quality certification for the Big Creek No. 4 Project in July 2003. The State Water Board continues to work in cooperation with FERC, SCE, and involved stakeholders and resource agencies on issuance of water quality certifications for the six remaining projects in the Big Creek Hydroelectric System. These six remaining projects are currently authorized under annual licenses pending issuance of water quality certifications by the State Water Board and issuance of new major hydropower licenses by FERC.

Related Documents

Six Big Creek Hydroelectric Projects (FERC Nos 67, 120, 2085, 2086, 2174, and 2175) Water Quality Certification and California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)

Final Water Quality Certification for the Six Big Creek Hydroelectric Projects – May 31, 2019

Final CEQA Supplement for the Six Big Creek Hydroelectric Projects – May 31, 2019

Draft Water Quality Certification for the Six Big Creek Hydroelectric Projects

Draft CEQA Supplement for the Six Big Creek Hydroelectric Projects

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

Big Creek ALP Hydroelectric Projects Settlement Agreement