Eel River Dams License Renewal – Potter Valley Project

Eel River Dams License Renewal - Potter Valley Project

Home | Key Initiatives | Reconnect Habitat | Eel River Dams License Renewal - Potter Valley Project

Project Goal:

Improve streamflows and reconnect Eel River salmon and steelhead with 288 miles of spawning habitat in the upper mainstem Eel River. Work with Regional Coalition partners (Sonoma Water, Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission, Round Valley Indian Tribe, Humboldt County) and the Huffman Ad Hoc Committee to implement a Two-Basin Solution for the Potter Valley Project.

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Project Stages

Impact Study

Relationship Building


Estimated Completion Date:


Project Funders



Fish Affected:


Project Description

Fish populations in the Eel River are severely depressed. Although the Eel River once boasted some of the largest salmon runs in California, the river’s salmon and steelhead populations are all listed as threatened under the Federal Endangered Species Act. Water quality throughout the Eel River is listed as impaired under the Clean Water Act for excessive sedimentation and high temperatures. The river’s mainstem and estuary are also negatively affected by habitat loss from agricultural land conversions, the introduction of non-native pikeminnow, and poor water quality. The 96 ft tall Cape Horn Dam has a poorly functioning fish ladder; 12 miles upstream from Cape Horn, 130 ft Scott Dam, which creates Lake Pillsbury, has no fish passage and blocks 288 miles of potential salmon and steelhead rearing habitat. Scott Dam is the largest barrier to native salmon habitat on the north coast and blocks access to high elevation, climate change resilient habitat in Mendocino National Forest and Snow Mountain Wilderness.

The Eel represents perhaps the greatest opportunity in California to restore an entire watershed and abundant populations of wild salmon and steelhead. PG&E’s decision not to relicense the project means a FERC mandated decommissioning process is all but guaranteed once the license expires this April. CalTrout and our partners recognize a unique opportunity to steer the future of the Eel River toward robust fisheries and a healthy watershed by removing both Eel River dams. We also recognize the opportunity to reverse the long-lasting impacts to Native American Tribes from a century and a half of habitat degradation and other impacts.

Over the past two years CalTrout, water users including Sonoma Water and Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission, Round Valley Indian Tribes, and Humboldt County have worked within the FERC relicensing process to find a proactive, science-driven approach to resolving the fate of this outdated water infrastructure. The Two-Basin Solution Partners worked toward a project developed, in part, by Congressman Jared Huffman’s Ad Hoc Committee – one that would maintain a winter diversion of Eel River water to the Russian River while restoring migratory access to habitat above the dams. However, the Partners were unable to raise the substantial funds needed to begin work on the project and PG&E was unsupportive. It is clear now that the only path forward for a two-basin solution is via the license surrender and decommissioning process where FERC will order PG&E to submit a plan to decommission the project. PG&E will remain liable for the project and all associated costs until FERC says decommissioning is complete. CalTrout and our partners will continue work to ensure that a free flowing Eel River is the ultimate outcome of the decommissioning process and that dam removal happens expeditiously.

Our recently completed Feasibility Study and Phase 2 studies ( have demonstrated that dam removal coupled with a run-of-the-river winter diversion can meet the needs of water users and conservation interests, while enhancing the ecological resilience of the Eel River. From analyzing water supply needs to evaluating multiple fish passage technologies, these Studies have provided foundational information for a negotiated settlement among all the interested parties and PG&E. Resolving the fate of PG&E’s Potter Valley Project in a timely manner will benefit the environment and also improve the long-term water security for Russian River water interests.

Project Partners:

The Eel River Forum members
(including PG&E, SCWA, PVID)
HSU River Institute
Riverbend Sciences
Friends of the Eel
Trout Unlimited
American Rivers
Native Fish Society
California Hydropower Reform Coalition