Comments to FERC re: Application for Temporary Variance of Minimum Flow Requirement

In July 2016 PG&E requested yet another temporary variance from minimum flow requirements for the purpose of preserving water resources during the drought. We submitted comments on the variance, voicing our concern about inadequate management of the Potter Valley Project. Read a portion of our comments below, or click here to read the entire document.

FOER does not object to the variance proposed by PG&E as currently written. FOER is a member of the Drought Working Group, which discussed and collaborated on the proposed variance. While FOER remains fundamentally opposed to the long-term diversion of water from the Eel River to the Russian River, it appreciates PG&E’s coordination of the response to the drought with stakeholders (including FOER) through the Drought Working Group. FOER is committed to continuing its participation in the Drought Working Group, and looks forward to working with this group to (1) set flows at appropriate levels given the scheme set forth in the variance, and (2) implement a pulse release strategy as set forth in the variance request to aid upstream salmonid migration and spawning in the Eel River watershed if deemed necessary.

FOER, however, generally shares the concerns set forth in the Round Valley Indian Tribes (“RVIT”) comments in this matter dated August 12, 2016 (“RVIT Comments”), and joins in those comments. Like RVIT, FOER’s general “concern about inadequate management of Lake Pillsbury levels is part of a more significant interest in finding ways to ameliorate the effects of the Potter Valley Project as a whole on salmonids in the Eel River.” RVIT Comments at p. 2. FOER remains concerned that any further alterations to the prescribed flow release plan may have an adverse effect on listed fish species in the watershed. Evidence in the record demonstrates that reductions in, or changes to seasonal flows released to the mainstem Eel River may result in disruption of migration, spawning, and successful reproduction of salmon and steelhead, while continued releases to the Russian River reduce the water available to Eel River fisheries.

In addition to the points made in the RVIT Comments, FOER would like to emphasize three additional points. First, it is critical during the variance period that PG&E, working in conjunction with the Drought Working Group, has the flexibility to access supplemental water to release for the purposes of power needs as well as pulse flows to assist in salmon migration, in addition to the block water releases provided under the license.

Second, FOER commends the Commission’s variance condition that the licensee “conduct an analysis on current dam safety operational protocols, precipitation forecast models, minimum flow requirements, and supplemental flows releases and determine the feasibility of modifying project operations to ensure that future flow variances are not necessary when adequate reservoir inflows were previously available.” FOER respectfully requests that, as part of this analysis or an analysis due in the near future, that PG&E conduct engineering and geotechnical studies of the effects of allowing storage in Lake Pillsbury to fall below 10 TAF, and to develop a safety protocol in the event that the needle valve were ever to become blocked or clogged. PG&E has acknowledged in the past that the amount of time and predictability of clearing such a block or clog is currently unknown, and could affect the ability to release water into the Eel River and may result in disruption of migration, spawning, and successful reproduction of salmon and steelhead. Thus, a safety protocol for attempting to prevent this scenario, and for addressing it should it happen are critically necessary.

Third, several commenters have made reference to the need to maintain diversions to support the needs of water rights holders. It is important to note that, aside from PG&E’s water rights for the purpose generating hydro-electric power and for incidental fisheries protection purposes and PVID’s contractual rights for irrigation, there are no water rights to Eel River water that is diverted through the PVP.

In sum, while the requested variance appears necessary to avoid imminent disaster, FOER urges the Commission, PG&E, and stakeholders to carefully consider the lessons from this and past variances and to adjust future behavior (including the utilization of pulse flows and block water) so that critical Eel River fishery resources are not further jeopardized. FOER further supports the continued cooperative efforts of the Drought Working Group, and urges that group and the Commission to explore a global solution and alternatives to the diversion of Eel River water.

Read full comments here.