Dear Friends of the Eel River,
We’ve come around again to the end of the year. It’s a good time to take stock and look forward. I offer a few thoughts about what lies ahead, in faith you’ll support our work.
The Eel River is poised on a tipping point. The sinuous skein that ties together nearly four thousand square miles of this rugged, emerald corner of the continent still holds tremendous potential. Treated well, the Eel River will yet recover the phenomenal productivity that led its native people to call the river Wiya’t – “plenty” – and which made it a source of fish exceeded only by the much larger Klamath and Sacramento systems. Our job is seeing the river gets the chance to recover.
Because our great river faces real perils. Friends of the Eel River has worked for years to head off big threats to the river’s health from dams and a railroad. Both questions are now heading toward what we earnestly hope will be their final crises. But at the same moment, we are leading a movement for reform as the watershed confronts a flood of impacts from the explosive growth of the marijuana industry. To secure the future of the river, her fish, and her people, we must prevail in all of these struggles. With your support, we will.
Relicensing will begin in only a few years for the two fish-killing, habitat-blocking dams of PG&E’s Potter Valley Project (PVP). If PG&E is granted another fifty year license for the dams in 2022, we can write off the prime, snow-fed upper tenth of the Eel River’s habitat as a nursery for salmon recovery. We are building the case to insure that we chose instead to decommission and remove the dams and diversion tunnel.
In the Russian River, flows diverted from the Eel cover overappropriation of Russian River water, and result in flows higher than is good for salmon. Because the Sonoma County Water Agency has refused to consider doing without Eel River water as they weigh new minimum flow rules, we’re doing our own modeling to show that’s not just a viable alternative, but the best choice for both rivers. Documenting harms to both the Eel and Russian systems will support our challenge to dams licensed only as a small hydroelectic facility – not as a water transfer facility.
Downstream from the dams, in the Eel’s magnificent, fragile canyon, twisted tracks and caved-in tunnels mark the path of the failed Northwestern Pacific Railroad. The railroad and its right of way are now owned by a California state agency, the North Coast Railroad Authority (NCRA). The politically connected insiders who control the NCRA are trying to reopen the Eel River Canyon to mining by rebuilding the railroad without environmental review. If they succeed, they’ll entrain another century’s of impacts just like those from which the Eel is only now recovering.
Far from standing up for the public interest, local and state officials have backed the corrupt former Congressman – and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat publisher – Doug Bosco’s scheme to seize control of the public railroad without complying with California law or paying a dime of compensation. Today, only FOER, our allies, and a California appeals court stand between the Eel’s vulnerable fisheries and a cabal of would-be robber barons who mean to seize control of the public line and operate without regard for the vital public trust resources of the Eel River.
A persistent libel holds that environmentalists who go to court are “in it for the money” – that we take on the expense and risks of litigation because we might be able to win back some part of our costs if we prevail. In reality, deep-pocketed operators like Bosco and his cronies drive up the costs of going to court to crush citizen opposition. Please, if you can, consider making an extra gift this year to ensure we aren’t buried by the reckless spending of an agency that doesn’t plan to ever pay its bills.
Right there are battles enough for most groups. But we’ve taken on a even larger, and still more pressing, campaign to meet yet another set of threats to the integrity of the Eel and its fisheries. While people have grown marijuana in Northern California for generations, the explosion of large scale cultivation that followed the 1996 passage of Proposition 215 has led to serious impacts on the waters and wildlife of the North Coast.
The disastrous summer just past showed we’re already well beyond carrying capacity in important parts of the Eel River watershed. The life of the river was bled dry by countless diversions of already inadequate summer flows. Salmon eggs and young were smothered by sediment washed off roads and flats recklessly cleared for giant greenhouses.
We’ve spotlighted the environmental impacts of the new marijuana industry, and helped crystallize widespread revulsion against the practices that generate these wholly unnecessary impacts. The challenge now is to bring a black market industry into the light of day. Appropriately scaled and sited operations can run with minimal environmental impacts. That means working off stored water, eschewing pesticides and other harmful materials, but it also means reclaiming the region’s reputation for environmental consciousness, compassion, and concern for quality over profits. Local governments must define the limits of acceptable practices, so responsible growers know where they stand and law enforcement can more easily shut down destructive operations.
It’s hard to know how best to invest our energies and resources these days, with so many needs so persistent and crises rising all around. I look for chances to make contributions that will make a real difference for the things that matter most. Few things matter more than functional ecosystems. Our actions and inactions are choices that will shape this place for long generations to come. If we choose wisely, our descendants will again celebrate the plenty the river brings.
We are poised to make a real difference for the Eel River and her fish. With your help, we’ll get it done.
For the river,
Scott Greacen, Executive Director
PS – Please consider including a bequest to Friends of the Eel River in your estate planning.