I write to you on Wednesday, November 9th, the day after the election. The morning sun’s bright warmth does not diminish the queasy dread rising, like a cold tide, over what I had dared to hope was a better world.
The letter I wrote you last week now reads like a note from an alternate universe – one where reason, truth, science, and law could usefully be invoked, if not suffice, in the struggle for justice and the protection of our living world. From an America working to correct some of its worst mistakes, slowly changing, in its awkward fitful way, mostly for the better.
In that world, the path ahead for friends of the Eel River and her fish is clear enough, though hardly without serious obstacles. PG&E’s Eel River dams are now up for federal relicensing. That means dam removal is now on the table.
Not that it will be easy to secure removal of the Eel River dams. The interests who benefit from the dams are wealthy and well-connected. They are not shy about using power and money to hold on to Eel River water to which they feel entitled. But with your help, we now have the once in a lifetime chance to take out the two dams on the mainstem Eel that cripple Eel River salmon and steelhead recovery.
Law, facts, science, and the pull of history all say it’s time to decommission and remove the Eel River dams. The upper dam has blocked the critical upper reaches of the watershed for a century. Hundreds of miles of now-inaccessible coldwater streams should be raising salmon and steelhead. Instead, the dams continue to harm the fish that do manage to spawn.
To secure new federal licenses, dams must comply with basic requirements. The historic agreements to remove four Klamath River dams were largely driven by the fact that even those large facilities don’t produce enough power to cover the costs of fixing the dams to protect downstream water quality and provide fish passage for native salmon. The Eel River dams have the same problems – but the paltry nine megawatts of seasonal peak power they produce probably don’t even cover PG&E’s maintenance costs.
To be sure, to save the Eel and the watershed’s web of life, to renew the promise the earth will be able to support future generations of fish, animals, and people in this amazing place, we will have to do more than remove the Eel River dams. As critical as that upper basin habitat will be in coming decades, it’s not just about the fish. It’s also about water politics, sustainable energy production, and most of all, how we can live without destroying nature’s capacity to provide for us.
Everyone is implicated by these questions. But the people who have always been part of this place are most directly affected. As a society, we have legal and moral obligations to Native peoples, none greater than to ensure the survival of the fish runs which have always been central to their culture. One of our most important tasks in the work ahead will be to support tribal communities in their demands. Here again, in last week’s America, removal of the Eel River dams was beginning to look not just right and necessary, but also likely under any reasonable application of the laws.
But that is not the world we live in now. To secure meaningful changes for North Coast rivers, we must press back against the malign forces that will now reign over an unchecked Republican majority. The facts and science have not changed. But the federal government will now be entirely controlled by a party that has chosen to reject reason and evidence, especially in environmental policy, and which has made anti-environmentalism a central plank in its extremist platform.
This will not be easy. We need your help now and in the years ahead.
The very laws which should protect our clean water and threatened species will now be the focus of Republican demolition efforts, in Congress, in the federal agencies, and ultimately in the federal courts. We know they will seek to roll back the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. We know the hydropower industry has already been pushing to gut the public safety and environmental laws which we must depend on to see that the Eel River dams are removed.
Even once we secure an agreement to restore the Eel River’s upper basin to the fish, the intransigent refusal of Republican legislators to even consider the Klamath dam removal deals must serve as a warning. To fight effectively for the hope we must protect, we have to build our collective strength.
Against willful blindness, we must continue to insist that our society move forward to solve real problems, not just defend an unsustainable status quo. We must work together with all our allies to defend our laws, to reinforce our demands that natural treasures as precious as the Eel’s fish never be sacrificed to extinction for the convenience of a powerful few.
The struggle will rise on many fronts. Taking down the Eel River dams must be among them.
We can still do this. We must still do this.
But we can’t do it without your help. Please consider a generous donation today.