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Dams! The chess game…
Friends of the Eel River has been acknowledged and praised for its devotion to the monitoring, defense and advocacy of the Eel River watershed. Through the education and support of the co-inhabitants and neighbors of this third largest watershed in California, we have been able to uplift our status as a small fish in a large pond, to a formidable challenger of large corporations and agencies in the interest of preserving our north coast public trust resources. We are over 2500 members strong, are blessed with a solid volunteer base, and thrice yearly publishThe Eel River Reporter which is the main source of reliable information on water issues facing north coastal California. We are also supported by a large contingent of scientists and fisheries experts, sport fishing alliances, river recreationalists, and concerned citizens who help us to meet new challenges to our watershed integrity. The entire mission of Friends of the Eel River is backed by an enormously dedicated and enthusiastic Executive Director, an active, diverse and top notch Board of Directors, a superb legal council which has helped us re-write California water law, and the generosity of members and friends of the Eel River.
In addition to the following legal interventions and victories we have allied with advocates of the Russian River watershed to halt the construction of an enlarged water delivery pipeline to Marin County from the Russian River as Eel River water is diverted to the Russian River. As a result, the Marin Municipal Water District is looking to use desalination and conservation to meet future water needs. Through this alliance Friends of the Eel highlights the need for bioregions to work together for the benefit of watershed integrity; forest, soil, fish, wildlife, air, river health are all of our concern.
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The Chess Moves
Friends of the Eel River’s (FOER) filed as an Intervener in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) proceedings, forcing the agency to re-assess its Draft Environmental Impact Statement on Pacific Gas & Electric’s Potter Valley Project (PVP). This decision continues FOER’s goal of decommissioning the Potter Valley Project and its dams as a viable alternative for the Commission.
In 1923 Scott Dam, forming Lake Pillsbury, was completed 12 miles upstream to hold 80,000 acre feet of water so the power project could operate more often. In 1925 Pacific Gas and Electric bought the project and it became known as the Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project. PG&E has increased capacity of the tunnel to divert 340 cubic feet per second from the supply in the lake and from the winter rains. Until 1983 only 2 cfs was allowed to escape to the Eel River from May until the winter rains refilled Lake Pillsbury. This was a major blow to the once prolific salmonids from this area. Because they had to swim so far, close to 1,000 river miles, these fish were considered the biggest and the best. The largest trout in the world ever caught was on this river.
January 8, 1999: FOER’s intervention in the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) hearings prompted the formation of a statewide coalition focused on halting the auction of PG&E facilities on the grounds that their Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) failed to address and rectify massive environmental degradation, including the virtual extinction of endangered salmonid stocks, throughout the mountainous regions of Northern California. Specific to our mission, FOER argued that PG&E’s diminution of water flows “virtually annihilated the Eel River’s historic runs of tens of thousands of Chinook and Coho salmon and steelhead trout”and severely compromised Humboldt County’s commercial and sport fishing industryto the tune of “$10 million annually, and over $8 billion cumulatively since construction of Cape Horn dam in 1908.”
Cape Horn Dam built in 1906 to create a bay, the Van Arsdale Reservoir, to move water from the Eel River down the mile long diversion tunnel to create electricity for the city of Ukiah on the Russian River. Snow Mt. Water and Power showed the concept could work but the reservoir quickly filled with silt even with operations being the run of the river. With no fish ladder on this dam over a thousand stream miles were lost for salmon habitat
January 14, 1999: FOER filed suit against Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) challenging their Water Supply Transmission System Project (WSTSP) which proposed to increase both the annual and maximum rate of water diversion from the Russian River. This increase depended on taking 92% of SCWA’s allocation from Lake Sonoma, thereby removing the water source promised to replace Eel River water when the PVP diversion ended. The lawsuit challenged the increased diversions under CEQA, the California Planning and Zoning Law, Water Rights Law regarding consumptive purposes by one watershed from another, and Public Trust Doctrine.
Coyote Dam, creating Lake Mendocino, was built over the protest of Mendocino County voters by the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) and the Army Core of Engineers. Sold as a flood control dam for those living in the natural flood plain, SCWA takes over control of water releases when flood season has passed, and sells water, which they paid nothing for, as far south as Marin County. Mendocino County joined in the project in time to receive a small percentage of the water stored in Lake Mendocino. The National Marine Fishery Service, NOAA Fisheries, told SCWA there was too much water in the Russian River and a reduction of 80% is needed in the summer months because it is ruining that rivers fisheries. This 80% is the diverted Eel River water. Now Mendocino development interests want to increase the height of this dam to hold onto the diverted Eel River water, disregarding the needs of their own coastal fishing industry that once thrived on Eel River fish.
Warm Springs Dam on Dry Creek that enters the Russian River near Healdsburg was sold as a recreational lake, flood control and drinking water but stipulated there would be no water for agriculture. Lobbying the surrounding counties, SCWA promise that once Lake Sonoma was filled they would no longer need the Eel River water. Additionally, with every request to take more and more water from the Russian River, the State Water Resources Control Board has asked SCWA where they would make up losses of Eel River to their water delivery system. SCWA always answered, in writing that Lake Sonoma would more than make up for any losses.
April 2, 1999: FOER intervened in FERC proceedings regarding re-licensing of PG&E’s Potter Valley Project and provided oral argument, as well as written and live testimony from expert witnesses, thus documenting the impact of PG&E’s water diversion. FERC has not yet rendered a final decision.
November 29, 1999: FOER moved to intervene in opposition to PG&E’s resubmission of its application to CPUC to auction off its hydroelectric facilities. We countered with legal argument and testimony from expert witnesses. CPUC ruled that a full EIR was required on PG&E’s divestiture; the initial proposal to auction off its facilities was rejected. Before the CPUC could take action on PG&E’s alternative proposal to transfer its hydroelectric assets by sale, the California Legislature adopted special legislation in early 2000, forbidding the company from transferring its hydroelectric assets until 2006. Though this leaves FOER in a holding pattern, it is prohibitive in terms of PG&E making any sudden moves.
September 12, 2000: FOER filed protest at the State Water Resources Control Board against Sonoma County Water Agency’s application to appropriate water and petitions requesting changes and extensions in water rights permits regarding their Water Supply Transmission System Project. Our arguments focused on the project’s numerous violations of the California Water Code, prior State Water Resources Control Board decisions, the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), and Public Trust Doctrine. (note: to date 7/2003 SCWA has failed to respond, so this issue is currently moot)
January 22, 2002: FOER intervened in PG& E’s Bankruptcy proceedings regarding the proposal to dispose of its hydroelectric assets, and on February 22nd Dennis Montali, the United States Bankruptcy Judge, approved our intervention, thus authorizing FOER to participate in the bankruptcy proceedings. We are involved in the process and file additional papers as necessary to protect watershed interests.
February 7, 2002: FOER intervened in PG&E’s filing to FERC for the approval of the transfer of its licenses to 27 new limited liability corporations. These applications affected 37 projects and 27 watersheds. PG&E’s plan to reorganize under Chapter 11 Bankruptcy was challenged by FOER. Our intervention papers opposed PG&E’s proposed transfer on the grounds that it would fragment integrated watershed management, sidestep PG&E’s applications, and place greater economic pressure on PG&E’s applications. Though PG&E amended the applications to reduce the fragmentation to which we had objected their applications have remained unacceptable. We are also using this intervention process to make sure PG&E pays for restoration costs for the ecosystems damaged by their projects and does not evade state and environmental laws through sales of power generating projects.
May 16, 2003: Victory! The First District Court of Appeals issued three primary rulings under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in favor of Friends of the Eel River’s appeal against the Sonoma County Water Agency, setting legal precedent binding on Superior courts throughout the State of California.
- The EIR on the Sonoma County Water Agency’s WSTSP is deficient. It does not address the dire condition of the Eel River’s fisheries resulting from the water diversions upon which the project depends.
- SCWA failed to consider the cumulative impact of the diversions of Eel River water into the Russian River. FOER argued that SCWA gave conflicting reports to FERC in its objection to curtailment in the existing level of water diversions from the Eel River while maintaining, in its own reports that adequate water exists for the diversion project. SCWA cannot have it both ways in objecting to curtailment and then stating there is sufficient water for development.
- The Water Agency failed to account for the project’s dependence on Eel River water and did not adequately consider alternatives.