Date of Award

Spring 5-8-2020

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Ecology and Environmental Sciences


Sharon Klein

Second Committee Member

Caroline Noblet

Third Committee Member

Aaron Strong

Additional Committee Members

Weiwei Mo

Catherine M. Ashcraft


The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is the regulatory body that oversees non-federally owned dam operations in the United States. With more than 300 hydropower dams across the U.S. seeking FERC relicense between 2020 and 2029, and 135 of those dams within the Northeast region alone, it is prudent to anticipate and plan for such decision-making processes. Anyone may be involved in FERC relicensing; in fact, FERC solicits public comment and requires the licensee to hold a public hearing during the process. Parties may also elect to apply for legal intervenor status, allowing them a more formal entry into the relicensing process. However, there are two key barriers that may keep the public from participating in a dam decision-making process in an impactful way. The first of these barriers is access to information. Having access to the types of information that matters to FERC is important, because it allows the participant to communicate their support or concerns about the relicensing using the language of the process. In particular, participants other than the licensee may not have access to project economic information, so this is a focus in my research. The second barrier is capacity to participate in a way that impacts the process (i.e., institutional knowledge about what kinds of decision criteria (factors) and decision alternatives (project options), as well as relevant data, that FERC typically weighs in their decision making or has considered in the past). Actors not privy to license information (perhaps encountering difficulty in navigating the FERC eLibrary), lacking knowledge of FERC process conventions, or otherwise unfamiliar with hydropower dam schemes or operations have substantial hurdles preventing their effective participation. My research, situated in the sustainability science arena, addresses hydropower project cost and performance assessment and multi-criteria considerations for dam decision support. I lead the development and assessment of an online Dam Decision Support Tool aimed at addressing barriers to the hydropower dam decision-making process. My work demonstrates possibilities for tailoring decision tools to incorporate stakeholder perspectives into decision making about hydropower dams.

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