Eel River Forum Releases Comprehensive Action Plan to Recover
Watershed and Native Fish
Last week the Eel River Forum, led by CalTrout and comprised of 22 public agencies, tribes, non-profit conservation organizations and other stakeholders, released the Eel River Action Plan. The plan identifies priority actions needed to recover the Eel River watershed and its native fish. It aims to achieve these goals while maintaining multiple land uses and recreation in the watershed. Priority actions in the plan address water diversions, water quality issues, habitat restoration, community engagement and protecting the Eel River Delta.
This plan is the culmination of years of hard work and collaboration among a broad group of stakeholders. The Eel River has seen decades of resource extraction and land use changes. The Forum has identified numerous high priority actions that will allow the river to recover and native fish to thrive while we maintain many of its economic benefits to the region.”
— Darren Mierau, North Coast Director for California Trout.
The Eel River is the third largest river entirely in California. While it was once home to one of the most productive salmon and steelhead fisheries on the West Coast, the health of the watershed has been declining for the past century and a half. Conditions throughout the system are degraded, putting strain on native fish and other wildlife.
A wide variety of human activities have led to poor conditions along the Eel River and its tributaries. Competition for domestic and agricultural water supplies, increasingly for marijuana cultivation, have led to low flows during the hottest and driest months, which are also the times when native fish most need abundant, cool flows to survive. Water is also stored and then released during dry months to ensure sufficient flows to support hydropower generation at the Potter Valley Project.
Water quality has been compromised from everything from sedimentation from timber harvesting practices and poorly constructed and maintained road networks to the conversion of pristine old growth forests to crowded stands in a heavily roaded landscape.
The plan identifies targeted actions to address these concerns as well as specific activities aimed at habitat restoration in high-priority areas that are likely to provide the most benefits to wildlife. It also outlines specific actions to benefit the Eel River delta and estuary and opportunities for engaging the community in the recovery and restoration of the watershed. It identifies a unified vision for priority actions to ensure that small-scale efforts undertaken by a variety of public and private organizations will work together to address the most urgent restoration needs.
“What’s notable about the Eel River Action Plan is the degree of consensus we’ve achieved among the members of the Eel River Forum,” added Julie Weeder, a recovery coordinator for NOAA Fisheries West Coast Region. “The diverse nature of the Eel River Forum’s membership, along with the guidance of the Eel River Action Plan, means this group is well-positioned to pursue recovery at county, local municipality, and private landowner scales simultaneously, to restore ecosystem health to this important river basin.”
The Eel River Forum has been meeting over the past four years to create a unified vision for how to protect and restore this iconic river and the native fish that once teemed in the river and its tributaries. With the plan complete, forum member organizations can leverage the action plan to demonstrate support for their independent work to implement targeted, high-value improvements throughout the system.
The completion of the Eel River Action Plan is particularly timely as PG&E’s Potter Valley Project approaches relicensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2017. The FERC relicensing project will consider how the management of the Potter Valley dam and diversion affects the health of the river and its native fish. By establishing clear baseline conditions and priority actions for improvement, the plan provides important data points for FERC and PG&E.
The 22-member Eel River Forum was convened by California Trout. Additional members include representatives from non-profit organizations Coastal Conservancy, Eel River Watershed Improvement Group, Environmental Protection Information Center, Friends of the Eel River, Friends of the Van Duzen River, Salmonid Restoration Federation; local tribes Round Valley Indian Tribe and the Wiyot Tribe; Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s Potter Valley Irrigation District; and government agencies California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California State Parks, Humboldt County Resource Conservation District, Mendocino County Resource Conservation District, National Marine Fisheries Service, North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board, Sonoma County Water Agency, US Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service and the US Forest Service.