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Using GIS to Prioritize Land Issues during Relicensing

With 13 powerhouses and about 1,700 miles of reservoir shoreline spanning two states, Duke Energy Carolinas’ 831-MW Catawba-Wateree Hydroelectric Project has much interest in land management. During Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing, Duke used a geographic information system model as a tool to prioritize the issues.

By Jennifer R. Huff, Kenneth D. Kearns, and Jeffrey G. Lineberger

During Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing of its 831-MW Catawba-Wateree Hydroelectric Project, Duke Energy Carolinas faced highly contentious stakeholder issues with regard to land use and conservation. Working with consultants Kearns & West Inc. and The Louis Berger Group Inc., the utility combined a collaborative approach with Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping to assign priorities to the land management and conservation issues.

The traditional licensing process (TLP) employed for the Catawba-Wateree project was complicated both by the physical size of the project and the range and complexity of its issues. The project includes 11 hydro developments with 13 powerhouses spanning North and South Carolina. More than 160 stakeholders representing 82 entities participated in the relicensing process for nearly three years. Even though many land issues, such as the conservation of large tracts not contiguous with the project, had little relicensing nexus, the emotional intensity surrounding land conservation had the potential to derail the agreement process.

To foster collaboration, Duke Energy Carolinas and the consultants worked with the stakeholders who were most interested in land conservation. This work resulted in crystallization of the basic land issues into eight general interest categories. Then, for each category, a set of resource attributes (e.g., ground cover, erodability) were identified. Stakeholder priority weightings were set for each category and for each attribute within the categories. Finally, the attributes and weightings were combined into a GIS model for use in evaluating and ranking actions needed for various land tracts.

The GIS model lent objectivity to the process by scoring each tract solely on how well or poorly it satisfied the combined attributes. The scores supported an interest- and resource-based land discussion with stakeholders that put land issues in a suitable context for the agreement.

Background on the Catawba-Wateree project

Duke Energy Carolinas owns and operates the Catawba-Wateree Hydroelectric Project on the Catawba River in North Carolina and on the Catawba and Wateree rivers in South Carolina. The project comprises 13 hydropower stations, from upstream to downstream: 20-MW Bridgewater, 28-MW Rhodhiss, 36-MW Oxford, 26-MW Lookout Shoals, 333-MW Cowans Ford, and 55-MW Mountain Island on the Catawba River in North Carolina; 69-MW Wylie on the Catawba River in both North and South Carolina; 48-MW Fishing Creek, 23-MW Great Falls, 42-MW Dearborn, 43-MW Cedar Creek, and 26-MW Rocky Creek on the Catawba River in South Carolina; and 82-MW Wateree on the Catawba and Wateree rivers in South Carolina. The stations draw water from 11 reservoirs: James, Rhodhiss, Hickory, Lookout Shoals, Norman, Mountain Island, Wylie, Fishing Creek, Great Falls, Cedar Creek, and Wateree.

The project spans more than 225 river miles and encompasses about 1,700 miles of reservoir shoreline within nine counties in North Carolina and five counties in South Carolina. The project boundary typically coincides with the full pond elevation of the reservoirs and limited amounts of land associated with project structures such as the dams and powerhouses. The proposed expanded project boundary will include the islands within the project reservoirs and recreation areas.


Holding focused meetings of stakeholders with interest or expertise in land management allowed Duke Energy Carolinas to address this vital aspect during relicensing of its 831-MW Catawba-Wateree Hydroelectric Project.
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The Catawba-Wateree project is the backbone of Duke Energy Carolinas’ generation fleet, providing an annual average of more than 1.5 million megawatt-hours of renewable hydropower, as well as cooling water to more than 8,100 MW of fossil- and nuclear-fueled generating facilities. The 11 reservoirs also: provide drinking water for more than 1.3 million people; process water for several large industries; provide water-based public recreation; and supply fish and wildlife habitat.

Duke Energy Carolinas’ FERC license, issued in 1958, will expire in 2008. An application for the new license was submitted to FERC in August 2006. Except for the Cowans Ford powerhouse, which began operating in 1963, the other developments were constructed between 1907 and 1928.

Relicensing issues

Duke Energy Carolinas elected to use the TLP for the Catawba-Wateree project, enhanced with additional opportunities for stakeholder participation. The goal was to significantly expand public involvement and work to an offer of settlement to be filed with the license application.

In February 2003, Duke Energy Carolinas filed its first stage consultation document with FERC. Initial scoping comments and study requests (568 in total) were provided by resource management agencies and other stakeholders in the spring of 2003.

Duke Energy Carolinas hosted public consultation meetings to share information about the Catawba-Wateree river system, describe the relicensing process, and provide opportunities for stakeholder involvement. Duke Energy Carolinas actively recruited interested individuals to participate on relicensing stakeholder teams. As a result, the utility formed six stakeholder teams with a total of more than 160 members representing 82 organizations.

Two regional advisory groups in North Carolina and two in South Carolina were organized, comprised of representatives who were familiar with regional relicensing issues. Advisory group members represented adjacent property owners, local governments, recreation interests, resource agencies, water-dependent businesses, land trusts, and other organized interest groups.

For each state, Duke Energy Carolinas organized a state relicensing team with representatives from state and federal agencies, Native American tribes, and non-agency groups with roles focused on the entire basin rather than on a particular region. The state teams also included a primary and alternate team member from each of the state’s two regional advisory groups. State relicensing team members represented overall resource expertise and responsibility for water quality, water quantity (flows), recreation and access, land and shoreline management, fish and wildlife resources, and cultural resources.

All six stakeholder teams collaboratively developed and used a single, common charter that defined and governed the discussion and negotiation process. The charter also described team member, facilitator, and FERC roles and responsibilities, communication procedures, decision-making processes, and negotiation protocols.

From June 2003 through about March 2006, each of the stakeholder teams met about once a month to consider and resolve relicensing issues. The result of this work was a 310-page agreement-in-principle. This was converted into a comprehensive relicensing agreement submitted to FERC concurrently with the submittal of the license application for the project in August 2006.

Focus on land management issues

The Catawba-Wateree River Basin has changed tremendously since the first dam was constructed in the early 1900s. When Duke Power, a predecessor to Duke Energy Carolinas, began developing hydro facilities along the Catawba River, it purchased large amounts of property. Much of this property was inundated in project reservoirs, but tens of thousands of acres of agricultural lands became lake-front property. For many years, Duke Power used these lands for forestry operations under the control of a subsidiary – Crescent Land and Timber. Concurrent with Crescent’s timber operations, many lands were leased at nominal cost to state wildlife agencies as wildlife management areas. Although these lands were privately owned by Crescent, over time, many in the region viewed them as public lands.


Figure 1: This geographic information system map of the area around Mountain Island Lake was produced during relicensing of Duke Energy Carolina’s 831-MW Catawba-Wateree Hydroelectric Project. The red land areas met the most criteria identified by stakeholders as important and primarily adjoin waterways.
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However, as the region became more developed and the recreational potential of the lakes grew, Crescent sold lake-front lands for seasonal and permanent residential development. Most of the remaining timber lands were removed from wildlife agency management during the 1970s and 1980s and leased to private entities. When Pan Energy and Duke Power merged in the 1990s to create Duke Energy Corporation, Duke Power and Crescent Resources both became affiliated companies within Duke Energy Corporation’s structure.

This history colored the relicensing discussion with regard to land conservation. More than 11,000 acres of land in the Catawba River Basin that was formerly owned by Crescent or Duke Power had already been transferred to public agency ownership (through donations as well as combinations of fair market and bargain sales) by the time the relicensing process started in 2003. However, many stakeholders expected that much of Crescent’s remaining landholdings would be conserved for permanent protection and public recreation through the relicensing process.

Forming a land ad hoc committee

About one year into the three-year stakeholder process, it became evident that land conservation discussions were consuming an inordinate amount of time. This was preventing the six teams from addressing important operational issues. Furthermore, many of the discussions were expressed through emotion, rather than from an objective assessment of how lands were important to continued operation of the Catawba-Wateree project. Several groups developed formal proposals identifying lands they believed should be conserved.

To refocus the teams, Duke Energy Carolinas proposed a land ad hoc committee comprising about 15 relicensing participants. Committee membership, chosen by the stakeholder teams to provide a balanced representation of the six relicensing teams, included land conservation experts and a number of stakeholders experienced in addressing other land-related interests. Members included county planners and land trust representatives, resource agencies from both states, a homeowners association, and several individual citizens.


Currently in an agricultural lease, this 550-acre tract of land called the North Bend Recreation Area will be conveyed to the state of North Carolina as a result of the relicensing negotiations for the 831-MW Catawba-Wateree Hydroelectric Project.
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The relicensing facilitator, Kearns & West, drafted recommendations for the committee’s responsibilities, tasks, and membership, which each of the six stakeholder teams reviewed and confirmed. The committee’s objectives were to:

– Develop a framework, based on criteria agreed to by the stakeholder teams, for evaluating land resources in the watershed during the relicensing process;

– Develop a prioritization method (scorecard) to help teams determine lands most important for negotiations leading to a settlement;

– Reflect values of the stakeholder teams in providing an efficient and data-oriented process for determining land categories and prioritization necessary to assist the negotiations; and

– Provide the committee’s consultant with an active link to the stakeholder process to ensure expectations and deliverables that fully met stakeholder team needs.

The committee’s work allowed the dialogue to continue among those who were interested in and most capable of addressing land conservation, while the teams moved forward to resolve other issues associated with project operations. The land ad hoc committee provided regular progress reports to the six teams and gathered input from them via surveys and feedback provided during the monthly stakeholder meetings.

Categorizing land interests

Duke Energy Carolina’s overarching goal for the land ad hoc committee was to add objectivity to relicensing discussions related to land conservation. This was vital to encourage stakeholders to “step back” from their emotional attachments to specific parcels of land and attempt instead to assess the relevance of conserving a particular tract, both for their stated interests and the interests of others participating in the relicensing process. Committee participants were asked to identify specifically why land conservation was important to them. This process, which resulted from several brainstorming exercises between the land committee and the six stakeholder teams, led to the identification of eight interest categories for land to:

Developing a GIS model

Given the large size of the Catawba-Wateree River Basin (5,609 square miles), the only practical method to assess land characteristics was with a GIS database. Once the eight interest categories were identified, the land ad hoc committee identified specific attributes that characterized the categories. To help provide timely input to the relicensing agreement negotiation, these attributes had to be features that could be identified using existing GIS datasets. For example, an important attribute of the “lands to manage floods” category is that the land is in a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) floodplain. This information was readily available in electronic format for most of the counties within the basin. A total of 44 attributes were identified, between three and 11 for each land interest category.

The Louis Berger Group built the GIS database used for the Catawba-Wateree project and developed a GIS evaluation model that could assess how well specific land areas met any and all of the attributes identified by the land ad hoc committee members. The first step in developing this model was to collect existing electronic GIS datasets and to create data layers for each of the 44 attributes. These data layers identified where each of the 44 attributes were being met (for example, the exact location of the FEMA floodplains).

The next step in developing the model was merging the 44 attributes into a single basin-wide polygon coverage using ArcInfo software from ESRI. This was accomplished using a series of ArcInfo “identity” operations. The base layer (input coverage) for the identity operations started as a single blank polygon of the entire basin. The first identity operation used the blank polygon as the base input and the first attribute layer as the overlay identity coverage. The resulting output showed the basin clipped into a series of polygons, some of which met the first attribute and some of which did not. Then, the output coverage from the first identity operation was used as the base layer for the next identity operation for the second attribute. This process was repeated until each of the 44 attributes was merged into a single ArcInfo polygon coverage. An accompanying table described whether or not each of the attributes was being met for each polygon in the coverage.

The final output file from this series of identity operations was used as the master database for all further analysis. This file could be used to display where in the basin any of the 44 attributes were being met, in any combination. For example, the attribute table could identify all areas that were both in a FEMA floodplain and within a water supply watershed.

The final step in the model development was to use this master database to develop a total “score” for each land polygon. Scores were calculated for all eight categories to determine how well each polygon met the goal of each category. A total score was calculated to determine how well each polygon assisted in meeting the goals of all categories combined.

Originally, the score was intended to show how many of the total attributes were being met for each of the records in the master database. This scoring method simply gave each attribute a value of “1,” with the total score being the sum of all the “1” values. With this method, the score simply represented the number of criteria being met by that individual polygon. The score would give higher value to lands meeting many of the 44 attributes as opposed to those meeting none or only a few attributes.

One major issue that arose when discussing this model with stakeholders was that the 44 attributes were not of equal value to meeting the interests described by each of the eight land interest categories. To resolve this issue, the relicensing team worked with the six stakeholder teams to weight each of the criteria and attributes with different values. Each team weighted the criteria and attributes differently depending on regional priorities.

Using the weighted method, each criterion was marked with a specific value depending on how important it was to achieving the interest described by the eight categories. In other words, if there were five attributes within a category, the attributes were assigned a value of 1 to 5, with 5 being the most valuable and 1 being the least valuable. The weighted score was then calculated as a sum of these weighted values. Using this method, the score represented not only the number of attributes being met, but also accounted for the value of those attributes. (See Figure 1 on page 46.)

Datasets were not available for all 44 attributes across all counties and/or states in the basin. To ensure that the scores for land areas within those regions with fewer available datasets were not unfairly “penalized” in the scoring process, scores within these areas were revised to reflect the percentage of all possible attribute points met by each polygon. In other words, if lands within County A had a maximum possible score of 100, but the lands within County B had a maximum possible score of 50 because there were fewer available GIS datasets, the scoring for both counties reflected the percentage of total possible points met by each polygon in the county.

After the GIS scoring process, individual land tracts were evaluated to determine their value in meeting the interests of the stakeholders. These candidate land tracts were identified in two ways. First, the lands that were identified by resource agencies, land trusts, local government planners, and others, and were included in formal proposals before formation of the committee, were scored and assessed. Second, the GIS evaluation model was used to locate additional tracts that scored highly in the attribute weightings. More than 200 tracts were evaluated using the model.

Results from the prioritization

Duke Energy Carolinas and 69 other parties signed the comprehensive relicensing agreement for the Catawba-Wateree Hydroelectric Project on August 12, 2006. As a result of the land ad hoc committee’s work, the GIS prioritization tool, and the stakeholder team negotiations, more than 2,000 acres of lands will be conveyed outright to state agencies for public recreation. Duke Energy is providing opportunities for discounted purchases by government agencies and conservation organizations of as much as 3,400 acres of land for public recreation and land conservation, of which 2,800 acres already have been purchased. In addition, Duke Energy Carolinas will expand its public recreation areas by about 500 acres. The company also is providing $9.3 million to $12.3 million (depending on the term of the new license) of funding to support additional land conservation in the river basin. Finally, the agreement calls for establishing conservation easements on 34 to 57 bank miles (depending on the term of the new license) of rivers and streams within the basin.

While conservation of these lands is significant to the region from environmental and recreational perspectives, the work of the land ad hoc committee was significant to the success of the stakeholder component of the relicensing process. The committee provided a forum for an ongoing dialogue between Duke Energy Carolinas and other relicensing process participants, while allowing for other significant relicensing issues to be discussed. The committee’s work and the feedback sessions with the stakeholder teams emphasized the difficulty in transforming land conservation into a purely objective evaluation and also helped stakeholders see the breadth of the land conservation interests across the basin.

Lessons learned

Through its work with this GIS model and the land conservation issues, Duke Energy Carolinas learned several valuable lessons others could apply in planning similar work.

– Not everyone is familiar with GIS technologies. Although some members of the land ad hoc committee were proficient with GIS technologies, most were not. One of the challenges was to educate them about GIS models. Identifying the technical knowledge needed by prospective committee members would have decreased the amount of time that had to be devoted to basic GIS education.

– Narrowly defining the geographic scope of the model keeps it manageable. The GIS database and model developed by the consultant was large and unwieldy. This made it difficult to share model outputs graphically or to revise the model. More narrowly defining the geographic scope would have made the model much more manageable and facilitated the exchange of information among committee members.

– Data availability varies greatly. The more urbanized areas had more data of better quality than the rural areas. While this difference in availability was somewhat addressed by using a percentage of total possible points approach to the model scoring, it was not an issue the committee had anticipated.

Ms. Huff and Mr. Lineberger may be reached at Duke Energy, 526 South Church Street, Charlotte, NC 28202; (1) 980-373-4392 (Huff) or (1) 704-382-5942 (Lineberger); E-mail: jrhuff@duke- energy.com or jglinebe@duke-energy. com. Dr. Kearns may be reached at Kearns & West Inc., 1425 K Street N.W., Suite 410, Washington, DC 20005-1503; (1) 202-535-7800; E-mail: kkearns@ kearnswest.com.

Jen Huff, senior environmental resource manager at Duke Energy Carolinas, is responsible for identifying land resources for conservation, mitigation, recreation, and cultural resources protection related to the utility’s hydro projects. Ken Kearns, PhD, a principal with Kearns & West Inc., was lead facilitator for Duke Energy Carolinas’ settlement negotiations related to relicensing of the Catawba-Wateree project. Jeff Lineberger, P.E., is manager of hydro licensing for Duke Energy’s 14 FERC-licensed hydro projects in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Indiana. He was lead negotiator for the Catawba-Wateree relicensing.


µ Peer Reviewed

This article has been evaluated and edited in accordance with reviews conducted by two or more professionals who have relevant expertise. These peer reviewers judge manuscripts for technical accuracy, usefulness, and overall importance within the hydroelectric industry.


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