As a member of Friends of the Eel River, you undoubtedly know that the Eel River watershed is not only a stunningly beautiful place but also a stronghold for increasingly threatened salmon and steelhead. You also know that it faces multiple threats. Thank you for demonstrating your care for the Eel River and your belief in our ability to protect and restore it. We are truly blessed to have friends like you
We are now in the midst of the most tangible opportunity we have ever had to return the Eel River to a free-flowing state. For more than 100 years, two dams and a diversion system have blocked more than 290 miles of its salmonid habitat and diverted a seasonally-significant amount of its waters to the Russian River. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) began its relicensing process for the project last year, a five-year process that only happens every fifty years. Friends of the Eel River have been involved every step of the way, articulating the threats that continued operations pose not only to the future of our salmon and steelhead but also to the safety of downstream communities.
Our pressure is starting to bear fruit, but we still have a long and labor-intensive path ahead of us to secure dam removal.
In a truly fair and transparent process, fisheries conservation and public safety would win the day, and the dams would come out. However, since that has rarely been the case with industry-friendly FERC, we have also been talking with other stakeholders in hopes of securing a multiparty agreement to remove the Eel River dams. Clearly, the folks in the Eel and Russian watersheds have different goals, but it looked like we were making some progress towards mutually agreeable solutions that could take the dams out while still providing at least some water to Russian River users.
However, in late February at a meeting of the Eel Russian River Commission (ERRC), PG&E announced its interest in getting out of the business of operating these dams altogether. While, in theory, this should increase the odds of removal, the ERRC commissioners made it clear they want to find a way to keep the dams. This tells us that they have not taken a hard look at the substantial questions facing any new owner in FERC relicensing.
They have no answer to the need to provide a way for salmon and steelhead to get around 130 foot tall Scott Dam.
They have no answer to the toxic methylmercury accumulating in the oxygen-free depths of the stagnant Lake Pillsbury reservoir.
They have no answer to the serious questions surrounding the century-old Scott Dam’s stability in the event of a substantial earthquake or landslide.
They have no answer to the fact that the inspections that FERC and PG&E assure us prove that the dams are safe are exactly the same ones that failed to catch the problems at Oroville Dam.
What we do know is that PG&E no longer wants these dams – for very good reasons. The diminishing hydropower operations don’t appear to even make enough money to cover the maintenance costs, and the costs of bringing them into compliance with federal law are prohibitive. The dams are a greater liability than asset at this point. UNLESS you are an entity in the Russian River Valley that has gotten used to taking the waters they serve to divert. And then they may very well seem invaluable.
To summarize, we have this huge window of opportunity with the FERC process to undo 112 years of damage and remove these dams. FERC might not be exactly friendly to our perspective, but the facts are on our side. And despite their furtive behavior, we have unmasked dam supporters’ efforts to retain the dams and water diversions. We are still working to discover how they think such a transfer of ownership could even be feasible, but rest assured we will not let these backdoor shenanigans go unchallenged.
Friends of the Eel River is YOUR WATERSHED ADVOCATE. We know the river. We know the issues. And we are willing to fight for its protection.
Friends of the Eel River’s efforts are critical to ensuring that decisionmakers recognize, and act on, the liabilities and risks of retaining this outdated, and increasingly dangerous, water project. Your support helps us ensure that the future health of the Eel River and its fisheries remains a top tier priority for them. Simply put, these dams must go.
For the Future,
Stephanie Tidwell, Executive Director
P.S. Dams aren’t the only thing we’re working on. There’s significant movement afoot in our efforts to resolve the legacy pollution and threats of the North Coast railroad and to forge more substantive environmental regulation of the local cannabis industry. We’re especially thrilled to announce that Sen. Mark McGuire just introduced a bill to break up the NCRA and launch the Great Redwood Trail Agency. Check out eelriver.org for more updates on what we’ve been up to.