Today, California’s third-largest watershed is one step closer to providing headwaters to ocean access for endangered and threatened salmon and steelhead.
California Trout along with Two-Basin Solution partners, Humboldt County, Sonoma Water, Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission, and the Round Valley Indian Tribes have submitted a plan to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on how the Potter Valley Project on California’s upper Eel River could continue to operate after its current license expires in 2022. The project is currently owned by PG&E. The plan calls for the removal of Scott Dam, which blocks access for salmon and steelhead to nearly 300 miles of prime spawning and rearing habitat, as well as new facilities to enable continued diversion of water from the Eel to the Russian River.
Prior to the construction of the Potter Valley Project and other human uses, the Eel River once saw salmon and steelhead runs of as many as one million fish annually. Today, most of these salmonid species are threatened or endangered. The plan submitted to FERC will improve conditions for fish in the Eel River and increase water supply reliability for communities in Mendocino, Marin, and Sonoma Counties. These communities rely on water diverted from the Eel River into the Russian River watershed through the Project’s operations.
With broad support from the conservation community including the California Salmon and Steelhead Coalition (The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited, and California Trout) the report submitted to FERC identifies key elements that must be in place to realize the vision for a two-basin solution. These include:
Curtis Knight, Executive Director of California Trout, said, “It’s encouraging to see the diverse stakeholders in this partnership coming together to support the removal of Scott Dam, which will allow Eel River salmon and steelhead to once again access critical headwaters habitat. Today’s submittal to FERC makes it clear that we can find a way forward that improves water security for Russian River water users while significantly improving conditions for native fish.”
Although the proposed project plan submitted to FERC is a significant step in the effort to realize a two-basin solution, the process for securing a new license for the PVP is still in the early stages. The Report’s Project Plan must be studied further, including analyzing the effects of removing Scott Dam on the communities around Lake Pillsbury, tribal interests, recreation and other activities on the Eel River.
Additional studies will be required to identify the best way to manage the sediment behind Scott Dam, how to improve upstream and downstream fish passage at Cape Horn Dam and what the ultimate cost of capital modifications of the PVP will be. These and other pressing issues will be addressed through the relicensing studies undertaken as part of the next phase of the FERC process.
Eureka Times-Standard: Scott Dam removal part of Potter Valley coalition’s proposal, Shomik Mukherjee, May 13, 2020
YubaNet: Salmon & Steelhead Coalition supports plan for removal of Scott Dam, reliability of water supplies for Russian River users, California Salmon & Steelhead Coalition, May 13, 2020
Santa Rosa Press Democrat: Sonoma County backs plan to remove Scott Dam, assume control of hydropower project, Guy Kovner, May 13, 2020
Redheaded Blackbelt: A five entity coalition files plan for Eel River’s Potter Valley Project, which includes removing Scott Dam, Kym Kemp, May 13, 2020
Lost Coast Outpost: Local coalition advances plan to remove Scott Dam on the Eel River, acquire Potter Valley Project from PG&E, Ryan Burns, May 13, 2020
Eureka Times-Standard: Coalition to take major step in acquiring Potter Valley project from PG&E, Shomik Mukherjee, May 12, 2020
About the Potter Valley Project
The Project is located on the Eel River and the East Branch Russian River in Mendocino and Lake Counties, California. It includes Lake Pillsbury, a 2,300-acre storage reservoir impounded by Scott Dam; the 106-acre Van Arsdale Reservoir, impounded by the Cape Horn Diversion Dam; and a tunnel and penstock across a natural divide to the powerhouse located in the headwaters of the Russian River Basin. The Project was built to store, then divert, Eel River Water to a powerhouse located on the Russian River.
About the Salmon and Steelhead Coalition
The California Salmon & Steelhead Coalition is a strategic partnership between The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and California Trout to increase streamflows in California’s North and Central Coast watersheds, with the goal of restoring and protecting wild salmon and steelhead and creating water reliability for people.