For Immediate Release July 12, 2022
California Trout – Redgie Collins – firstname.lastname@example.org, (415) 748-8755
Trout Unlimited – Charlie Schneider – email@example.com, (707) 217-0409
Lake County, California – On Monday, July 11th Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) proposed a schedule for filing a license surrender application and decommissioning plan for the Potter Valley Project. This filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) sets the stage for eventual removal of the Project.
Conservation groups working to recover native steelhead and salmon said the filing is an important milestone in the effort to restore the Eel River to a free-flowing state and rebuild its once abundant salmon and steelhead runs. Dam removal would make the Eel California’s longest free flowing river.
In the schedule, PG&E states it will prepare and file a final surrender application and decommissioning plan within 30 months of FERC’s approval of the plan. As soon as six months from approval, the utility will prepare an initial draft surrender application and decommissioning plan for the Project, which includes two Eel River dams, a diversion tunnel that moves water out of the Eel River watershed and into the East Branch of the Russian River, and a powerhouse.
PG&E, in a separate filing on July 12th, responded to a March 17, 2022 letter from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) citing new evidence that the Project is harming endangered salmon more than previously believed, asking PG&E to re-initiate consultation under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and to immediately adopt interim measures to limit the damage to fish in the meantime. In this filing, PG&E refuses to re-initiate consultation, claiming it is not necessary and that additional protective measures for fish are not required.
“PG&E has made it clear they will rid themselves of the 100-year-old Eel River dams, but they seem content to slow-walk the process and continue to kill ESA-listed fish while they take their sweet time,” said Matt Clifford, California Water Attorney with Trout Unlimited. “Yesterday’s filing officially puts PG&E on the path toward decommissioning the Project, but that can’t come soon enough for Eel River salmon and steelhead. These fish need help from PG&E while it still owns the Project so that by the time the dams actually come out there will still be viable populations of native salmonids to rebuild.”
“Extensive scientific research has made clear that the Potter Valley Projects kills federally protected Chinook salmon and steelhead. Dam removal is the only viable path to recovering salmon and steelhead in the upper Eel River,” Clifford added. “It’s alarming that despite this evidence, and a direct request from a federal agency charged with protecting endangered species, PG&E says it will take two years just to come up with a plan to remove their obsolete dams and that in the interim they won’t do anything more to mitigate the harms their project causes.”
“PG&E has been intentionally obstinate thus far in their approach to working with regional stakeholders to resolve the fate of the Potter Valley Project in a way and on a timeline that address the needs of both fish and people,” said Redgie Collins, Legal and Policy Director for CalTrout. “It’s incredible that a major utility company with such a poor public image wouldn’t take advantage of opportunities like this to show they are committed to being a good and responsible corporate citizen. CalTrout will do everything it can to pressure PG&E to do what’s right for the Eel River and its flagging fish populations.”
Studies completed on behalf of a partnership comprising Eel River advocates and Russian River water users have shown that removal of both Scott and Cape Horn dams coupled is feasible and could be completed relatively quickly, restoring access for salmon and steelhead to habitat critical for their recovery.
Collins noted, “The Potter Valley Project will be our nation’s next big dam removal project and is justified both economically and ecologically. Russian River water users must now determine if they want to maintain a diversion, how much they are willing to pay to secure one, and determine how they will pay for it. CalTrout remains committed to helping move forward a surrender plan that represents a compromise between Russian and Eel River interests. If PG&E truly wants to make a positive impact for Californians then we urge them to be fully committed partners on the Eel River rather than simply guilty bystanders.”
Cover photo of Cape Horn Dam, part of the Potter Valley Project, by Kyle Schwartz.