Water: Who Needs It?

At the Potter Valley Water Project, owned and operated by PG&E, water is not wasted. It is waste. That’s because the two dams, the manmade lake, the reservoir, the tunnel and the Archimedes Screw, are all parts of a facility that produces between three and 8.4 megawatts of hydroelectric power. The water is just a by-product.

To Janet Pauli, of Pauli Ranch in Potter Valley, that water is her lifeblood. To Scott Greacen, executive director of Friends of the Eel River, it is diverted from its rightful habitat, further endangering the anadromous fish that spawn there.

Pauli, who is also a director and vice president of the Potter Valley Irrigation District, says it’s not just ranchers and fish who rely on the water that pours into Lake Mendocino from the Eel.

Since 1959, when the Coyote Valley Dam was built, “The water from the PVWP…is stored in Lake Mendocino. The whole face of water use changed from that point downriver, because the water is being re-stored (after first being stored in Lake Pillsbury, behind Scott Dam) and released on a very defined schedule.”

There are some shallow wells in the greater Ukiah Valley, but Pauli points out that Lake Mendocino—with its steady flow of water from the Eel—is the only water source sustaining the area’s population.

Exactly how much of Lake Mendocino is filled from the Eel? According to Mike Dillabough, Chief of Operations and Readiness Division for the San Francisco District at the Army Corps of Engineers, “As of midnight last night we had 95 cfs into Coyote Valley Dam from all sources. About 85 percent of that came from Potter Valley.”

As the season progresses, other flows taper off or disappear, including the roughly 5 cfs he can expect from Cold Creek and a few other small streams. The Corps is involved in Research and Development projects to model the impact of springs and groundwater on the lake, but he concedes that the predictive sciences are “still stuck a little bit in the Ouija board days.”

Dillabough explains further that the reservoir at Coyote Valley Dam is shallow, so without flows from the Eel, water all the way to the confluence of Dry Creek and the Russian River is too warm for juvenile fish.

Fish and their habitat are top priority for Scott Greacen, executive director of Friends of the Eel River. Greacen, who would like to decommission the Potter Valley Water Project, is optimistic.

He states that, “Increasingly, we have seen a series of successful dam removals and river restoration projects.” He asks a question of his own: “What are the costs of mitigating a current dam setup to comply with current law, especially laws like those requiring fish passage at dams?”He mentions the still-pending proposal to remove several dams on the Klamath River, where, he claims, “The utility (PacifiCorp) looked at the potential costs of a fish ladder and the other things necessary to make those dams no longer clear violators of our environmental laws. And they decided that, on the whole, it made more sense to go ahead and take those dams out…frankly, that’s exactly the same approach we’ll be taking.”

Paul Kubicek, senior biologist at PG&E, is also optimistic. When asked if the activities of groups like Greacen’s were imperiling the re-licensing process, he spoke in detail about how hard the company is working to comply with the requirements of its license. “We know a lot more about fish now,” he declared. “It’s a collaborative process.”

Published by: Ukiah Daily Journal

By: Sarah Reith

Published: May 9, 2015

Read article in Ukiah Daily Journal