Restoring fish access to the Eel River’s headwaters by removing the Potter Valley Project dams. Protecting the rare and spectacular summer steelhead. Safeguarding public trust values. Adapting to climate change and sea level rise. At Friends of the Eel River, we are working on some huge tasks these days, and are honored to play an important role for this beloved watershed.
We hope we can count on your continued support. Please make a generous contribution today to help us address the needs of tomorrow.
And speaking of the needs of tomorrow, we have before us a rare opportunity. This year, flows in the mainstem Eel are the lowest in the historical record. Flows and precipitation are lower even than in 2014, when the river disconnected in the fall and migrating chinook suffered elevated levels of disease. Knowing that a disaster awaits our fish this fall presents an opportunity to do something about it now. This is precisely why we are asking Humboldt County Supervisors to take immediate action to pass an emergency ordinance which would allow them to curtail groundwater pumping to preserve surface flows. The County’s own data show that, in the Van Duzen at least, groundwater pumping has a measurable impact on surface flows. We must do everything we can to protect the dwindling populations of salmon entering our river.
In a more distant future, we will see salmon and steelhead once again returning to the headwaters of the Eel, to the hundreds of stream-miles of prime habitat blocked by Scott Dam. The “two basin solution” that various regional partners are currently seeking – relicensing the Potter Valley Project while pursuing dam removal – appears increasingly unlikely to succeed. But if that door closes, another will open: dam removal by project owner PG&E under the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) surrender and decommissioning process.
Any day now we expect to see a report evaluating diversion alternatives at Cape Horn Dam. This report will inform our next steps and, we hope, allow the conversation about removing Cape Horn Dam to progress. We know Scott Dam is a complete barrier to fish passage and must come down. But what good is removing that dam if fish still struggle to get past Cape Horn Dam 12 miles downstream? We continue to seek solutions which uphold the original fish passage goal agreed upon by all stakeholders in Congressman Huffman’s Ad Hoc Committee: improve fish passage and habitat on the Eel River sufficient to support recovery of naturally reproducing, self-sustaining and harvestable native anadromous fish populations including migratory access upstream and downstream at current project locations.
By the end of this fall, we will have more clarity on whether the current relicensing path could be successful, or whether we need to return to the FERC license surrender and decommissioning process. Either way, we are dedicated to ensuring that salmon and steelhead will once again reach the headwaters of the Eel River.
One of the best arguments I know for restoring fish passage to the Eel River headwaters is to provide Northern California Summer Steelhead with the opportunity for recovery. I am thrilled to share with you that the California Fish and Game Commission just voted to approve our petition and will list Northern California Summer Steelhead as endangered under the California Endangered Species Act! Summer steelhead and other premature migrators like the Klamath Spring Chinook have experienced severe decline in recent decades accelerated by their unique life history. They arrive in freshwater sexually immature and hold in cold pools over the summer, ultimately using fall rains to propel themselves far into the upper headwaters. While adaptations like this related to variable flows and temperature have made them especially vulnerable to impacts from human activities, they are also essential to the species’ survival through climate change. That the genetic marker for summer steelhead lives on in resident trout trapped up behind Scott Dam is a glimmer of hope for preserving this rare and special life history. This is why we need to ensure that summer steelhead both receive as much protection as Endangered Species Act listings can provide, but also have access to the hundreds of miles of high-quality habitat blocked by the dams.
Over the next few years we will need your support to speak up for protecting summer steelhead and restoring fish passage to the Eel River headwaters. Please be sure you are receiving our emails, this is the best way to stay informed of opportunities to take action.
And speaking of endeavors that need community support – our furthest vision of the future extends from Humboldt Bay, through the Eel River canyon, all the way to the bay area along the Great Redwood Trail. We are really pleased with the progress that Senator McGuire and many others have made on laying the legal framework for what will be the nation’s longest rail-trail. This spring the North Coast Railroad Authority filed their application for railbanking the line with the Surface Transportation Board. Meanwhile, Senator McGuire’s bill SB 69 has been making its way through committees. We look forward to seeing the Great Redwood Trail Agency blossom, receive funding, and begin the important work of evaluating how to clean up the mess and create new opportunities for locals and visitors to enjoy the spectacular Eel River canyon.
Here’s to working today to secure our vision of tomorrow!
For the fishes,