Dear Friends of the Eel River,
Here it is. The blue skies and bright sunshine of Summer 2016 are upon us.
For many of us, it’s time to head to the wild places, to the rivers and mountains that sustain us. So it’s a good time to reflect on what we will need to do to keep those wild places alive for all the long summers yet to come.
Our Wild and Scenic Eel River is going to need a lot of help in the next few years. The relicensing process for the two Eel River dams and the tunnel that diverts the Eel’s water to the Russian River starts next year, in 2017!
This will be our once-in-a-lifetime chance to get the dams out of the Eel, to open the upper basin to the salmon, steelhead and lamprey that have been walled out of their native habitat for more than a century.
Finally, we can reconsider decisions made at the beginning of the 20th Century to build the dams, in light of the hard lessons we’ve learned over the last hundred years. There are a lot of reasons to think the dams should be decommissioned. The tiny amount of electricity the dams and diversion tunnel produce (and the reason they are licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC) could easily, and more cheaply, be replaced with more reliable wind and solar power.
What’s really at stake in the relicensing fight is the water diversion that makes a few people wealthy in the Russian River – versus our responsibility to protect and restore the Eel River and its fish, so essential to forest and river ecosystems and to the native peoples who have stewarded these resources from time immemorial.
Of course, there are powerful interests who want to keep the dams in place. Dam owner Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) is apparently assuming that FERC will renew the license without significant changes to the dams. The Sonoma County Water Agency, which has used Eel River flows to cover for the overallocation of Russian River flows, clearly intends to hang onto the Potter Valley diversion by any means necessary. And the Potter Valley Irrigation District, a small group of wealthy landowners, has been working for decades to secure endless diversions from the Eel.
So, to reclaim the Eel, we must show it’s possible to meet the reasonable water needs of communities on the Russian River without using Eel River water. That’s why we have insisted that the Sonoma County Water Agency consider an alternative that does not use Eel River water in new draft rules for Russian River flows. This rewrite, known as “D 1610,” was required by the State Water Board after federal fish biologists warned that using the Russian River as an irrigation ditch isn’t actually good for native salmon and steelhead.
Click here to learn more about D.1610
With your support, we have experts with Kamman Hydrology and Engineering on the job, preparing the data and hydrologic models we’ll need to effectively comment on the new Russian River flow rules. We expect the draft rules and environmental impact report to finally be released this month. Stay tuned for your chance to comment on this important set of draft rules this summer.
If you’re wondering about when our lawsuit against the NCRA will finally get a hearing before the California Supreme Court, join the club. The wait has already been a year longer than I expected. But our day will come.
Finally, anyone who has been following the politics of the Green Rush will know that while California and the counties of the North Coast have begun to build a regulatory framework for legal marijuana cultivation, we’re still many years away from getting an effective handle on the black market activities that are causing severe, ongoing harms to our watersheds and communities.
Friends of the Eel River will continue to weigh in on these issues, where our efforts are most likely to lead to improvements for the Eel River’s chances of recovery to health and productivity.
Your support makes all this possible. Please consider assisting Friends of the Eel River’s work with a donation today.
And have a great summer out there.
 Scott and Cape Horn Dams are obsolete; were poorly constructed in the first instance; are located on earthquake faults; are likely unsafe; have begun to silt up; harm federally listed species like salmon and steelhead, preventing their passage altogether above Scott Dam, and undermining their potential recovery, as well as sensitive but unprotected species like the river’s namesake lamprey and green sturgeon; and they benefit harmful invasive species like the voracious pikeminnow.