For Release: Weds May 13, 2020
For more information: Alicia Hamann, Executive Director, firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott Greacen, Conservation Director, email@example.com
Today’s filing proposes to remove Scott Dam, which would allow Eel River fish passage to their headwaters habitat for the first time in a century.
That’s a start. But too many questions remain unresolved.
(Eureka, CA) Today, a coalition of five Eel and Russian River parties filed a Feasibility Study Report with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The report outlines a proposal to take over PG&E’s Potter Valley Project, including Scott and Cape Horn Dams on the upper Eel River. Most notably, the plan proposes to remove Scott Dam, which has blocked fish passage to and from the upper Eel completely for nearly a century.
Friends of the Eel River has been fighting for decades to remove Scott Dam so Eel River salmon and steelhead can return to the hundreds of stream miles of prime headwaters habitat above the dam. Today’s filing vindicates our understanding that removal of Scott Dam is both necessary to allow fisheries recovery, and an economic inevitability.
Nonetheless, Friends of the Eel River must reserve judgment on the plan proposed in today’s filing. FOER’s Executive Director, Alicia Hamann said, “We applaud the Two Basin Partnership for recognizing that Scott Dam must come down, but too many questions remain unresolved in the plan filed today.”
“Nobody wants to pay to keep Scott Dam,” Hamann noted. “PG&E must be held accountable for the damage its dams and reservoirs have done to the Eel River over the last century; they must pay their fair share. The plan suggests a potentially enormous price tag. Getting part way to dam removal won’t do any good for Eel River salmon and steelhead.”
As well, it’s not clear who will be represented in the proposed Regional Entity. Nor is it revealed who would pay for parts of the proposed plan that wouldn’t come under FERC jurisdiction. Critically, this would include a pipeline proposed to pump water uphill from the Lake Mendocino Reservoir to the Potter Valley Irrigation District.
“While the Eel River’s salmon and steelhead have paid a devastating price, going from a million fish a year to the brink of extinction, Potter Valley has had the benefits of nearly free water for the last century,” said FOER’s Conservation Director, Scott Greacen. “Those who benefit from water diverted from the Eel River in the future will have to cover the associated costs.”
Despite these concerns, today’s filing does make it very likely Scott Dam will be removed, and Cape Horn Dam removed or modified to the extent necessary to insure passage for salmon, steelhead, lamprey, and other native fish. This is because, if the plan proposed in today’s filing were to fail, PG&E and the Potter Valley Project will go directly to FERC’s Decommissioning Process.
After its latest bankruptcy filing, PG&E terminated its application to FERC for a new license for the Potter Valley Project. This foreclosed any possibility the utility could keep the project. The Two Basin Partnership was the only entity to respond to FERC’s subsequent invitation to take up PG&E’s abandoned license renewal.
While the FERC Decommissioning Process would likely be protracted, and its outcome uncertain, it’s likely FERC would order PG&E to remove Scott Dam. With such an order in hand, PG&E would likely be allowed by the California Public Utilities Commission to recover the costs of dam removal from its ratepayers, who have benefited from operation of the project over the last century.
Thus, Friends of the Eel River must consider the plan outlined today not as the only hope of Eel River dam removal, but as one possible path to that goal. The question is whether it offers Eel River fisheries a better, faster and more equitable resolution than FERC’s Decommissioning process would.
FOER’s Greacen emphasized, “Removing Scott Dam, ensuring Eel River salmon and steelhead can return to their upper Eel River habitat, has always been our core mission at Friends of the Eel River. We will bird-dog this and every other process necessary to get Scott Dam removed and our fisheries restored. One way or another, Scott Dam is coming down.”