Threats and opportunities often come hand in hand. This has always been clear in the interplay of humans and our environment. And in 2021, it was clearer than ever for the Eel River.
Addressing threats often presents opportunities to reduce our impact on the environment, improve natural resource management, and correct historical environmental injustices. The Eel is no exception.
The threat of unregulated groundwater extraction in the lower Eel and its impact on dwindling surface flows led the State to require a sustainable groundwater management plan. This plan provides an opportunity to ensure that Humboldt County leaders fulfill their duty as guardians of the public trust.
The threat of relicensing the Potter Valley Project gave diverse stakeholders the opportunity to pursue a two basin solution and ultimately conclude that dam removal is both necessary and inevitable.
Threat of extinction for Northern California Summer Steelhead lead us to pursue opportunities to learn more about and secure formal protections for this seriously awesome fish. They are the strongest swimmers, the highest climbers, and the southernmost summer steelhead run on Earth. And it’s our responsibility to ensure they have a chance at survival.
Sometimes the pursuit of an opportunity can expose us to a new threat, as was the case this fall with the absurd proposal to revive the defunct Northwestern Pacific Rail and use it to ship coal up the Eel River Canyon for export out of Humboldt Bay. In pursuit of the Great Redwood Trail, a spectacular opportunity for ecologically appropriate recreation along the wild and rugged mainstem Eel, the North Coast Railroad Authority applied to railbank the line. Unfortunately, the process of railbanking, which would preserve the right-of-way for public use, exposed us to the threat that a private entity might try to purchase and rebuild the line. This is something that no one expected, mostly because the former railroad was such a disaster. Conservative estimates on the cost to rebuild the line come in around $2.3 billion, and back in its heyday maintenance costs on the line were the most expensive in the nation. Despite this high cost, desperate times call for desperate measures, and the global shift to embrace green energy definitely means desperate times for the coal industry.
We are fighting this proposal with everything we’ve got. And we must, because federal railroad law prioritizes freight traffic above trails, and provides a path mostly exempt from environmental review. Luckily potential investors face a whole other set of complexities in any effort to develop new infrastructure at the port. This provides for additional opportunities to erect barriers which we are pursuing as part of our work leading the No Coal In Humboldt coalition. You can learn more about this coalition at nocoalhumboldt.org.
If we are successful in fighting off the absurd proposals to revive rail in this totally unsuitable location, we can again turn our attention to the Great Redwood Trail. Our focus is to ensure that trail development includes cleaning up the mess of the former railroad, cultural interpretation which honors the indigenous ancestors of the region and the acts of violence they endured, and ecologically appropriate recreation opportunities.
And on the subject of great opportunities, we will soon embark on a new path to the same destination – Eel River dam removal. It is now clear that the Two Basin Partnership’s efforts to relicense the Potter Valley Project have failed, leaving FERC’s license surrender process as the only remaining option. As soon as the Partners withdraw their intent to relicense, FERC can order PG&E to apply for license surrender. We can then get on with providing all the evidence necessary for FERC to order the best course of action – project decommissioning and dam removal. The potential for a continued diversion is still on the table, but there must be no further delay to do the right thing for Eel River fish.
This year your donation will be doubled! Several generous donors have made pledges to our matching fund. Any donation we receive by December 31, up to a total of $8,000, will be doubled.