Promising Salmon Run Needs Sufficient Water to Thrive

For Immediate Release: December 1, 2011
Severn Williams, 510-336-9566,


Request Made to Department of Fish and Game and National Marine Fisheries Service for Higher Flows on the Eel River

Promising Salmon Run Needs Sufficient Water to Thrive


North Coast, Calif.  – With all signs pointing to a promising spawning year for imperiled salmonids on the Eel River, watershed advocacy group Friends of the Eel River (FOER) releases the following statement:


“FOER recently sent a request to the California Department of Fish and Game and the National Marine Fisheries Service to authorize the release of blockwater from Lake Pillsbury into the Eel River. Blockwater is held in the reservoir and released to assist in fish migration and survival when DFG and NMFS agree to do so. Our request was made in support of what may be the largest run of migrating salmon that have returned to the Eel River in decades. To date, CDFG and NMFS have never authorized the release of blockwater.


“While this year’s increase in chinook salmon numbers is very good news, it poses new and different challenges when it comes to ensuring a successful migration and spawning season.


“Although within the legal requirements to prevent jeopardizing Eel River chinook, releases from the Potter Valley Project into the Eel this fall have generally been at the lower end of the range of flows specified for this time of year. The best available scientific information strongly indicates that higher flows generally provide better migration and spawning conditions.


“Agency representatives have stated their concern that releasing more water into the mainstem Eel could make it difficult for fish to find their preferred tributaries. While we share concerns for the once-robust Tomki Creek population of chinook, a sharp decline in returns to Tomki Creek was already evident in 2010. Meanwhile, in 2011, independent observers have confirmed that chinook have moved into the South Fork Eel and Van Duzen rivers.


“The agencies’ position on the use of the Eel River blockwater appears to be that higher flows within the recommended range would be harmful to Eel River chinook. If that’s true, then the agencies should clarify the recommended flows, and should come forward with the evidence that shows harm to Eel River chinook from the higher flows that previous studies support.


“It defies common sense to imagine that water must be held back within a human-engineered system in a watershed that has traditionally supported salmonid runs that number in the hundreds of thousands. Until PG&E’s Potter Valley Project was built in 1908, salmon and steelhead thrived in the Eel River with the benefit of ample cold headwaters. Current releases into the Eel do not even approximate the natural flows in this river in terms of volume, nutrient transport, or gravel bed load moving capacity.


“If water is not available for salmon to continue upstream, they will spawn in the mainstem in areas that can more easily be washed out when flows later increase. Ensuring that flows remain at a brisk pace throughout salmon and steelhead runs will help these fish to either continue their journey upstream or identify sheltered areas on the mainstem in which to build their redds (egg nests).


“One official in the region recently criticized FOER for requesting an increase in flows on the Eel River while expressing concerns about releasing too much water into the Russian River. The comparison regarding appropriate releases of water into these rivers is misinformed at best, if not outright misleading. The Russian River is an over-watered system in which unnaturally high flows overwhelm threatened salmon. The Eel River is systematically deprived of the minimal flows required to support migrating fish. The source of both of these problems is the same: PG&E’s outdated Potter Valley Project and mismanaged flow regimes.


“For all of these reasons, Friends of the Eel River once again requests that PG&E release higher flows from its Potter Valley Project into the Eel River. As 2011 appears to be one of our best opportunities to bolster recovering chinook, coho, and steelhead populations, it is in everyone’s best interest to ensure a very successful spawning year.”


About Friends of the Eel River (

Friends of the Eel River (FOER) is an environmental advocacy organization with more than 2,200 members. The organization strives to restore the Eel River and its tributaries to a wild and natural state of abundance. FOER works with scientists, fisheries experts, sport fishing alliances, river recreationalists, and concerned citizens to advocate for an increase in flows to the river that would enable native salmon and steelhead to once again thrive in the watershed.



FOER Attorney  Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP  –Request for Block Water Release

NOAA/NMFS and CDFG – Agency Denial Response