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Local coalition advances plan to remove Scott Dam on the Eel River, acquire Potter Valley Project from PG&E

Ryan Burns, LOST COAST OUPOST

n a major development for both water rights and the environment on the North Coast, an unlikely coalition of five regional entities today filed a plan with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to take over the Potter Valley Project, a hydroelectric facility that diverts water from the Eel River.

For Humboldt County residents in particular, the plan is significant because it calls for the removal of Scott Dam, a 98-year old hydroelectric wall that has had major detrimental impacts to native migratory fish populations, including salmon and steelhead.

The five entities in the coalition known as the Two-Basin Partnership include the County of Humboldt, the Mendocino County Inland Water & Power Commission, the Round Valley Indian Tribes, California Trout and the Sonoma County Water Agency.

These groups have distinct and sometimes conflicting objectives for the water that’s at stake, with environmental interests clamoring for fisheries restoration while agricultural users in the Potter Valley and water agencies in the Russian River basin have their own uses in mind. Agricultural interests in the Potter Valley and upper Russian River basin want the water to irrigate their crops, primarily vineyards. Sonoma and Mendocino water agencies want it to supply their customers and meet their contract obligations.

“The glue that has held this two-basin solution together is that everybody has a heck of a lot to risk here,” Congressman Jared Huffman told the Outpost this morning. “Nobody has a slam dunk on what they want.”
Continue reading “Local coalition advances plan to remove Scott Dam on the Eel River, acquire Potter Valley Project from PG&E”

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Scott Dam slated for removal in plan by Sonoma County and partners to control hydropower project

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Enviro Updates: From the Eel River Action Plan 2016, by California Trout: “The Eel River is the third largest river entirely in California.The Eel River ecosystem, its salmon and steelhead populations, and other native fish and wildlife populations have been in decline for the past century and a half. It has been transformed from one of the most productive river ecosystems along the Pacific Coast to a degraded river with heavily impaired salmonid populations.”

A nearly century-old dam on the Eel River that impounds Lake Pillsbury is slated for removal under a $500 million proposal helmed by Sonoma County and four other regional partners seeking to take over from PG&E a remote but pivotal hydropower project in Mendocino County.

The coalition, including Mendocino and Humboldt counties, hailed the proposal as a milestone in their effort to meet the needs of all three counties, protecting water supplies for farmers, fish and communities, including a key source of supplemental water for the Russian River system that serves 600,000  customers in Sonoma and Marin counties.

The dam removal alone, a long-sought goal of environmental groups and fish advocates, would be the highest-profile project to improve habitat for imperiled North Coast salmon and steelhead in decades, perhaps behind only the dam removals planned on the Klamath River within the next two years.

“The good news is that Scott Dam is coming out,” said Scott Greacen, conservation director for Friends of the Eel River, a nonprofit that for decades has been pursuing removal to open up more than 300 miles of spawning habitat in the upper Eel. Due mainly to dams, water diversion and other development, the river’s salmon and steelhead “have paid a devastating price, going from a million fish a year to the brink of extinction,” he said.

The proposal, submitted Wednesday to federal officials, has also stirred passions among those dismayed by the prospective loss of a 2,300-acre recreational lake deep in the Lake County portion of Mendocino National Forest. Santa Rosa residents George and Carol Cinquini, who have held a cabin at Lake Pillsbury since the 1940s, are annoyed that the 450 homeowners, ranchers and small business owners in the lake community were excluded from the planning process.

“We tried to get our foot in the door,” said Carol Cinquini, vice president of the Lake Pillsbury Alliance, which was formed last year.

“We’re very upset,” said George Cinquini, an alliance board member. The reservoir, about two hours from Santa Rosa is a haven for water sports, and without it, Cinquini warned, Russian River flows will be diminished in dry years.

But North Coast Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who brought local shareholders together to chart the project’s future, said the proposal is the only way to guarantee a “really important water resource” for the Russian River.

The 98-year-old dam has long outlived its purpose, he said, and the coalition project, dubbed the Two-Basin Partnership, calls for habitat restoration “to rejuvenate one of our great salmon rivers in California.”

State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, whose district stretches across both drainages, called for Lake County to be added to the partnership because Lake Pillsbury and most of the Eel River’s headwaters are in the county.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/10960029-181/sonoma-county-backs-plan-to

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Op-Ed: Newsom is being played by Big Ag on Delta water

Editorial Board, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS

Governor must use best available science to protect California’s fresh water supply

He won’t admit it, but Gavin Newsom is being played by Big Ag interests as he tries fruitlessly to negotiate a truce in California’s water wars.

The governor’s apparent willingness to play into the hands of monied, agri-business players at the expense of the health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta remains the biggest mystery of his short tenure. It also threatens to trash his reputation as a strong protector of California’s environment.

The Delta supplies water for 25 million Californians, including about one-third of Bay Area residents. Scientists agree that allowing more, not less, water to flow through the Delta and west toward San Francisco Bay is essential for protecting fish life and providing a clean supply of drinking water for current and future generations. That means restricting pumping of water out the south end of the Delta into Central Valley farmland.

The governor has been trying for months to get the major urban and ag players to reach a voluntary agreement on water flows from the Delta. His stated goal has been to avoid the lengthy lawsuits that follow a state mandate. But on Dec. 10, the Fresno-based Westlands Water District, the largest agricultural district in the nation, threatened to pull out of the talks. Westlands General Manager Tom Birmingham said “it would be impossible to reach a voluntary agreement” if Newsom followed through on his November pledge to sue the Trump administration over the federal government’s plan to pump more water south to Central Valley farmers.

It’s the same strategy Westlands used in September to pressure the governor to veto SB 1. The bill would have established as state standards the federal environmental protections that existed before Trump became president.

SB 1 offered Newsom the tool needed to thwart the Trump administration. It might have also given the governor leverage to bring environmentalists and farming interests to the table to reach a voluntary agreement on Delta water flows. But the governor caved to Big Ag interests in hopes that they would work cooperatively on a negotiated deal. We see how well that strategy worked.

The question now is whether Newsom will capitulate again to agriculture interests by backing down on his promise of a lawsuit to block the federal government’s planned increase of Delta water diversions.

The governor has repeatedly made clear that he “will rely on the best available science to protect our environment.” That science is unequivocal.

In the same week that Newsom vowed to sue the Trump administration, the state released a draft environmental impact report based on “a decade of science and a quantitative analysis of best-available data on flows, modeling, habitat and climate change impacts.” The report made clear that the operating rules proposed by the Trump administration “are not scientifically adequate and fall short of protecting species and the state’s interests.”

The scientists in charge of the drafting the federal government’s environmental impact plan said much the same. That is, until the Trump administration got wind of the conclusions and promptly replaced the scientists. In short order, a new report emerged saying pumping an additional 500,000 acre-feet (one acre foot of water is enough to supply two households for a year) to the Central Valley wouldn’t hurt the Delta’s health.

The ball is in Newsom’s court. The governor should follow through on his lawsuit against the Trump administration and act on the best available science to secure California’s fresh water supply.

Source: https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/12/29/editorial-newsom-is-being-played-by-big-ag-on-delta-water/

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Work to continue on second half of Dry Creek restoration

Mary Callahan, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Overlooking water that was swiftly running through a broad channel that was mostly a patch of thick brush and trees until last year, local and federal officials and others on Monday marked the halfway point in a 13-year, $81 million fish habitat restoration project along Dry Creek.

In the past seven years, Sonoma Water and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have completed about 3 of the 6 miles of streambed they intend to rehabilitate and enhance to give endangered salmonid species that call the creek home a better chance to survive.

“This is, I think, one of the gems of our region and really a highlight project,” Army Corps Brigadier General Kimberly Colloton told those assembled.

As they toasted the conclusion of the final phase in the first round of projects at the edge of a Ferrari-Carano vineyard in Healdsburg, the two key partners approved an agreement committing to continued work on the effort.

But they have little choice. A 2008 biological opinion issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service required the two agencies to restore 6 out of 14 miles of Dry Creek. The work had to be done if they were to continue operating the Warm Springs Dam at Lake Sonoma for flood control and water deliveries to 600,000 consumers throughout Sonoma and northern Marin counties.

The order came in response to findings that water releases made since completion of the dam in 1984 were often at too high a velocity for juvenile fish to rest or feed adequately. Moreover, such fast-moving water further scoured and straightened out the streambed, exacerbating the problem.

The work they’ve been doing since is designed to spread the creek out, creating side- and cross-channels and dead-ended alcoves that slow the water down to a stop. They’ve added giant root wads, boulders, tree stumps and other woody debris to create places for small fish to hide and rest, and put in willows and other plants on the banks for shade.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9516210-181/work-to-continue-on-second

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CalTrout wants old Scott Dam on Eel River removed to help salmon and steelhead

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A state environmental group is calling for the removal of an old dam on the Eel River, contending it threatens the future of protected salmon and steelhead while acknowledging it is a key part of the North Bay’s water supply.

Scott Dam, a 138-foot concrete dam erected in 1922, is one of five aging dams California Trout asserts are “ripe for removal” to benefit their natural surroundings and communities.

The nearly 50-year-old nonprofit known as CalTrout said in its report, “Top 5 California Dams Out,” the Eel River represents “perhaps the greatest opportunity in California to restore a watershed to its former abundance of wild salmonids.”

Scott Dam, located in Lake County’s portion of the Mendocino National Forest, has been a longstanding target of other groups, including Friends of the Eel River, who want steelhead, coho and chinook salmon to swim freely within the 288 miles of habitat in the Eel watershed blocked by the dam.

The environmentalists see a “unique opportunity” to achieve their goal, as California’s largest utility PG&E, which has owned the dam as part of a small hydropower project since 1930, has filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy and abandoned plans to sell or seek relicensing of the project that diverts 20 billion gallons of water a year from the Eel to the Russian River at Potter Valley.

Eel River interests have considered the diversion a form of theft, while the water is critical to towns and ranches on the upper Russian River from Potter Valley to Healdsburg and part of the water supply for 600,000 residents in Sonoma and Marin counties.

How the future of the Potter Valley Project will play out over the next 18 months to two years is unclear, but it appears likely to result in either decommissioning or relicensing of the project, which includes a small powerhouse and two Eel River dams.

The bottom line is either PG&E or a new owner of the project may face a choice between paying more than $90 million for a fish ladder at Scott Dam or about $70 million to remove it.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9312399-181/state-environmental-group-wants-old

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CalTrout report lists old dams whose removal will free up salmonid habitat

California Trout

Announcing the release of CalTrout’s Top 5 California DAMS OUT Report highlighting five dams that are ripe for removal and that must, for the health of the ecosystem and communities around them, come out.

California has thousands of dams, from smallearthen barriers to large dams hundreds of feet tall. More than 1,400 of those dams are large enough to fall under state safety regulations. A great number of them provide critical water supply, flood control, and hydroelectric power. But many have outlived their functional lifespan and the ecosystem and economic benefits of removal far outweigh the cost of leaving them in place.

California Trout’s Top 5 California DAMS OUT Report highlights five dams that are ripe for removal and that must, for the health of the ecosystem and communities around them, come out. The five dams were selected by analyzing information found in several studies to assess the overall benefits that removing the dam would present to native fish, water, and people.

Read more at https://caltrout.org/2019/01/top-5-california-damsout-2019-report/

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PCFFA leads suit against State Water Board to protect salmon in the Water Quality Control Plan

Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, YUBANET.COM

On Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, a coalition of environmental, fishing, and Native American groups led by the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) filed suit against the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board).

Plaintiffs demand that the State Water Board use its own recommendations based on science and environmental law to enact a Water Quality Control Plan protects fish in the Stanislaus, Tuolumne, and Merced rivers and in the main stem San Joaquin River blow their confluence.

These three tributaries of the San Joaquin River have historically supported vibrant runs of tens of thousands of Chinook salmon annually. Diversions of their waters by municipal water agencies, including San Francisco, and local irrigation districts over the past five decades have severely impacted those salmon runs, pushing them to the brink of extinction. The Water Quality Control Plan approved last month codifies what has heretofore only been a tacit approval of such diversions by the State Water Board.

In 2009, the California State Legislature adopted the Delta Reform Act to compel the State Water Board to take prompt action to save historic salmon runs. In 2010, the Board adopted the recommendations of a staff report which determined that, to save this public trust fishery, the San Joaquin River’s flows should be increased to a minimum of 60% of their historic (“unimpaired”) flows during the critical migration period of February through June.

On Dec. 12, 2018, the Board adopted minimum flow standards of just 40% of unimpaired levels on average, rather than the 60% average that its scientists showed was required to restore salmon runs.

PCFFA Executive Director Noah Oppenheim called Friday’s lawsuit, “a long overdue wake-up call that the State Water Board must now do its job to prevent the imminent extinction of this irreplaceable fishery. For decades this regulatory process has been captured by water agencies with no compunctions about hastening the end of salmon fisheries. Today salmon fishermen and fishing communities are raising their voice.”

Joining the PCFFA in filing suit are the North Coast Rivers Alliance and the Winnemem Wintu Tribe. All three agree that unless historic flows are restored immediately, the survival of the Delta’s salmon fishery is in jeopardy. A copy of the verified petition and complaint is here.

Their lawsuit alleges that the State Water Board’s failure to restore adequate flows in these rivers violates the federal Clean Water Act and California’s Porter Cologne Water Quality Act—which require protection of historic fish runs—and also the Public Trust Doctrine, which forbids the Board from allowing excessive diversions of water needed for the survival of the Delta’s salmon.

“Unless the Board is ordered to comply with the law and these flows are restored at the scientifically recommended levels, California’s salmon will never recover and the fishing families that bring the ocean’s bounty to the public will continue to suffer unjustly,” said Oppenheim.

Source: https://yubanet.com/california/pcffa-leads-suit-against-state-water-board-to-protect-salmon-in-the-water-quality-control-plan/

 

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PG&E announces withdrawal from Potter Valley Project relicensing and auction process

CALIFORNIA TROUT

PG&E announced last week that it was withdrawing from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing process as well as the effort to sell the Potter Valley Project.  California Trout has been engaged in both proceedings and are hopeful this development will create a favorable environment to continue working towards a two-basin solution. 

From Pacific Gas and Electric:

Today PG&E submitted a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission providing our “Notice of Withdrawal of Notice Of Intent to File License Application and Pre-Application Document” for the Potter Valley Project.  As a result, PG&E will expeditiously cease all activities related to the relicensing of the Project.  Our decision to cease Project relicensing will also result in the stoppage of our efforts to sell the Project via the Request for Offers (RFO) process.

Although the timing is unclear at this point, we anticipate that PG&E’s action will result in FERC initiating its Orphan Project process.  In accordance with the Orphan process, FERC will provide interested parties the opportunity to submit an application for a new Project license.  We believe this path will allow interested parties more time to prepare for the acquisition of the Project and the ability to submit a License Application on their own terms rather than assuming PG&E’s current application.  If the Orphan process does not result in the issuance of a new Project License, it is expected FERC will order PG&E to prepare and submit a Surrender Application and Decommissioning Plan.

Source: Email from California Trout, read more about the Potter Valley Project at: https://caltrout.org/regions/north-coast-region/keystone-initiative-eel-river-recovery/potter-valley-project-and-ferc-relicensing/

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Owners give up developmental rights to protect critical watershed land in Mark West

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Ambling through a forest on his rural Mark West area property, Ray Krauss bent over to pinch a fir tree sprout and pull it from the rain-damp ground. If the tiny green seedling grew much larger, Krauss would have to nip it with pruning shears, and were it to become a substantial tree he would fell it with a chainsaw.

But the 76-year-old retiree, who wears a bright red bicycle cap to keep his bald head warm, is considered a patron saint — not a plunderer — of the 63 acres of critical watershed land he has stewarded for nearly half a century.

“It’s been an utter privilege to live here all these years,” Krauss said. “It’s such a special location.”

Were the land and the wildlife on it able to speak, they might thank him for his dedication.

Sonoma Land Trust, which has protected more than 50,000 acres of land for future generations, embraced the early Christmas gift it got last week from Krauss and his wife, Barbara Shumsky. The couple donated a conservation easement, prohibiting development and guaranteeing the land will remain largely unchanged in perpetuity, foregoing the potential for substantial profit.

“We have a special affection for the Mark West watershed,” Ariel Patashnik, the Santa Rosa nonprofit’s land acquisition program manager, said while visiting the property on a foggy afternoon.

Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9088793-181/owners-give-up-developmental-rights

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PG&E plan to sell Mendocino County hydropower project unsettles North Coast water system

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

PG&E intends to sell a remote Mendocino County hydropower project at an auction this fall, a decision that means little in terms of its meager electrical output but sends a ripple through the water system that supplies cities, residents and ranchers from Ukiah south through much of Sonoma County and into northern Marin County.

Many of the more than 600,000 customers and residents who get their water from the Russian River have no idea how much of it flows from the Potter Valley Project’s two dams on the Eel River and through an aging powerhouse in the out-of-the-way valley about 20 miles north of Ukiah.

There’s no indication yet that PG&E’s divestiture from the 110-year-old project — or the alternative of transferring it to local control — would jeopardize the annual diversion of more than 20 billion gallons of Eel River water into the Russian River. But the utility’s announcement opens the door to changes water experts have anticipated and unsettles communities across two counties that rely on it.

“The water supply needs to be protected,” said Janet Pauli, a longtime Potter Valley rancher and irrigation district official. “It’s very serious. There’s no way around it.”

Lake Mendocino, the reservoir near Ukiah, depends on the Potter Valley diversion to supply dry-season Russian River flows down to Healdsburg and supplement the supply the Sonoma County Water Agency delivers to customers in Sonoma and Marin counties. Most is taken from water stored in Lake Sonoma, the region’s largest reservoir.

But without the diversion, Lake Mendocino would shrivel in size in the driest years ahead, diminishing flows in the upper Russian River, a local government study found.

Read more at http://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8314850-181/pge-plan-to-sell-mendocino