Comments to FERC re: Temporary Variance 2015

June 2, 2015

Honorable Kimberly D. Bose,
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
888 First Street, N.E.,
Washington, D.C. 20426-0001

via Electronic Submittal (E-Filing)
Re: COMMENTS on Application by Pacific Gas and Electric for Temporary Variance Of Minimum Flow Requirement, Potter Valley Project (FERC Project No. 77- 275); MOTION TO INTERVENE.

Dear Secretary Bose,

Friends of the Eel River (FOER) is a nonprofit citizens’ group that advocates for policies and practices consistent with the protection and recovery of the Wild and Scenic Eel River’s outstanding resource values, especially the three salmonid species protected under the federal Endangered Species Act. We have commented extensively on previous variance requests and other matters relevant to the Potter Valley Project (PVP), noting the potential and actual impacts of flow reductions in the Eel River below the PVP on those listed Chinook, coho, and steelhead.

Our comments, queries, and attempts to elicit information and action from FERC are offered in the public interest. As stated below, FOER has an interest in seeing flows maintained in the mainstem Eel River sufficient to protect public trust resources, including fisheries, which are the focus of our organization’s concerns and the subject of important legal protections. Pursuant to Commission Rule 214, FOER hereby moves to intervene in this matter. 18 C.F.R. § 385.214(b)(1)-(2).

FOER does not oppose the proposed variance as adopted in FERC’s May 18, 2015 order.

We appreciate the opportunity to work with other stakeholders in the Potter Valley Drought Working Group.

We do, however, strongly support the position articulated by the Round Valley Indian Tribes in this matter. We would support additional reductions in diversions to the Russian River basin proportional to the sharp reductions in flows already suffered in the Eel. FOER is very unlikely to support further reductions in releases to the Eel from the PVP. As noted by Dr. Bill Trush, “The ‘9 + 3 cfs’ release in PG&E’s variance request is less than desirable, but dropping even more (e.g., ‘3 + 3 cfs’) will greatly increase risks to Eel River salmonids and the river ecosystem.” We hereby incorporate Dr. Trush’s attached memorandum into these comments. Dr. Trush explains the rationale for maintaining ecologically appropriate flows in the mainstem Eel and suggests a monitoring effort to support more effective flow management and avoid unecessarily harmful low flows.

FOER does wish to note for the record several points that appear to us relevant to questions of Eel River flows and Russian River diversions, but which do not appear to have been considered in FERC’s appraisal of the proposed variance. These include:

Releases below Van Arsdale are likely insufficient to maintain flows for downstream water rights holders as well as fish.

As noted in comments by Mr. Jerry Albright, domestic water users downstream of the PVP can be affected by reductions in Eel River flows. It is not clear that those needs, or the cumulative impacts of diversions on the mainstem Eel, have been factored into applicant’s calculations of the minimum stream flows needed to maintain effective fisheries habitat in the river.

PVID must clarify and justify the need for a minimum of 25cfs in the event that storage levels in Lake Pillsbury do not meet target levels.

We appreciate PVID’s offer to inform PG&E of predicted lower irrigation demands by their customers during the one or two periods remaining this year for cutting and drying alfalfa and clover hay, so as to allow PG&E to concurrrently reduce releases from Lake Pillsbury for those periods (allowing for ramping discharges) and retain more water in storage.

However, PVID has not provided a compelling rationale or data to support limiting their minimum flows to 25cfs in the event that target storage levels in Lake Pillsbury are not met.

According to PVID board members present at the May 7th stakeholders meeting, alfalfa and clover hay represent approximately 60% of their seasonal water demands. Reductions in these crops after the first cutting could yield significant reduced demands for water deliveries, and substantial savings in water storage. Yet, PVID has not offered to ask their customers to reduce acreage or forgo 2nd or even 3rd cuttings of hay, as much of California’s rancher and farmers are doing this year. Given substantial cutbacks to such crops across California during the present drought, FOER questions whether such uses are reasonable under the circumstances.

It was also noted during the meeting that PVID’s irrigation channels and ditches are unlined, and in fact support additional diversions via wells in the PVID service area. This inefficiency and waste must be accounted for in calculations of PVID’s minimum flows as well. This situation raises additional questions as to the reasonableness of PVID’s water use under these circumstances, as well as its method of use. Flows for Eel River fisheries and water rights holders downstream of PVP should not be further compromised while PVID’s water use shows significant waste and inefficiency.

PG&E’s operation of the storage at Lake Pillsbury remains inefficient and wasteful.

During the May 7th meeting, PG&E staff noted that dam operators had to release a large volume of water flowing into the Lake Pillsbury reservoir during a significant rain event in February 2015, even though no additional storms were on the weather horizon. Apparently, according to the Department of Safety of Dam’s rule curve for management of flood storage levels, the Scott Dam’s gates could not be closed during that event. Because the current rule curve does not account for actual weather events and the current knowledge of tracking and predicting atmospheric rivers, a great deal of water that could have – and should have – been stored for this year’s dry season was discharged instead.

Facing similar problems under the rule curve constraints with the Corps of Engineers at Coyote Valley Dam, the Sonoma County Water Agency has been working diligently with the Army Corps of Engineers, National Marine Fisheries Service, the US Geological Survey, Scripps and others to design new modeling and new rule curves to maximize water storage in Lake

Mendocino. This multi-year, multi-stakeholder work is taking advantage of much more accurate predictive weather data to maximize existing water supply pool storage, while being able to much more effectively manage storage and releases in anticipation of predicted storm events.

FERC should direct PGE to update the storage management of Lake Pillsbury to be more sensitive to currently available and developing models of storm predictions (particularly for atmospheric rivers), or to explain why they are not doing so.


Under the specific circumstances presented with this variance request, FOER does not object to the variance as adopted. However, as we have pointed out in comments on previous variance requests, it is clear to us that there are reasonable measures that could and should have been taken to avoid coming to this pass in the first instance.

Flows releases to the mainstem Eel River must not be allowed to go below 9+3 cfs. As air temperatures increase in late summer and early Fall, water temperatures are likely to increase to harmful levels, while river flows will be reduced by evaporation, evapotranspiration, and diversions by water rights holders (including senior water rights holders).

If target storage levels at the Pillsbury reservoir are not being met, such that releases from the PVP must be further curtailed, flows released to the PVID and East Branch Russian River must be proportionally reduced in lieu of any additional cuts to Eel River flows. Where the Eel below Cape Horn would otherwise be subject to 75% reductions in PGE Variance Table 2, PVID and EBRR releases must be reduced by 75% instead. (PVID gets 25% of 50cfs = 12.5cfs; EBRR gets 25% of 40cfs = 10cfs). Such an adjustment would allow Eel flows to remain at 9+3cfs and prolong storage in the Pillsbury reservoir.

Thank you for your careful consideration of these comments.

Sincerely yours,

Scotss sig WEB

Robert Scott Greacen
Executive Director
Friends of the Eel River

Cc:        Neva Geldard, PG&E


Read our full comments here with data from Dr. William Trush, Co-Director of the Humboldt State University River Institute