Fish populations in the Eel River are severely depressed. Although the Eel River once boasted some of the best salmon runs in California, the river’s salmon and steelhead populations are all listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Water throughout the Eel River is listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act for excessive sedimentation and high temperatures. The river’s delta and estuary are also negatively affected by agricultural practices, sediment issues, and water quality.
While the lower Cape Horn Dam has a fish ladder, the taller Scott Dam, which creates Lake Pillsbury, blocks 150 miles of potential salmon and steelhead rearing habitat. It is the largest barrier to native salmonid habitat in the Eel watershed and likely the entire north coast.
The Eel represents perhaps the greatest opportunity in California to restore a watershed to its former abundance of wild salmonids.
With the dams facing the FERC relicensing process and PG&E’s recent decision to withdraw from that process as well as from their plans to auction of the Project, a unique opportunity presents itself for conservation organizations, including CalTrout, to steer the future of the Eel River toward robust fisheries and a healthy watershed. While the recent PG&E bankruptcy proceedings have complicated the situation, conservation organizations, water users including the Potter Valley Irrigation District and Sonoma Water, tribes and other stakeholders have been working together to find a two-basin solution and take a proactive, science-driven approach to the relicensing process. This two-basin approach would provide a solution that increases the flow of water in the Eel River, opens habitat above Scott Dam, and protects the interests of farmers, ranchers, wine growers and residents who rely on Russian River water.
Much research has been done to determine the best path forward for the Potter Valley Project that meets the needs of water users, landowners, and the ecosystem. From analyzing the water supply needs to evaluating fish passage technologies to working hard to put all of the necessary pieces together for a productive settlement with all the participating parties, stakeholders are exploring all options.
While the potential to remove Scott Dam is a distinct possibility given that FERC will likely require improvements in fish passage to bring it up to 21st century standards, all of the participating parties will have to work together to find a solution that will meet the diverse interests at the table. That being said, there are a number of emerging scenarios that could provide for the removal of Scott Dam while maintaining or increasing water security for Russian River water interests.
Visit PotterValleyProject.org for more information. Subscribe to CalTrout’s newsletter to receive updates on the project *Potter Valley Project Update – PG&E withdraws from relicensing and auction process – read their full statement and our responseDonate Today