Letters: Salmon, not grapes, are at risk

Letter to the Editor: The Ukiah Daily Journal

April 2, 2022

To the Editor –

The Eel River’s embattled salmon and steelhead may have no better enemy than Guinness McFadden. In his March 25 letter to the Ukiah Daily Journal, the Potter Valley wine grape grower kicks up a fuss about Representative Jared Huffman’s efforts to help reach a proactive solution to the issues raised by the pending expiration, this April 14, of PG&E’s license to operate the Potter Valley Project. But McFadden’s unfiltered fury at the prospect of Eel River dam removal only shows how bankrupt Potter Valley’s arguments are.

McFadden denounces what he calls Huffman’s “woke environmental radical” agenda in noting that impacts on Eel River salmon and steelhead will restrict Project operations while PG&E is decommissioning the dams.

But it’s not radicals, but the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that says coverage for ‘take’ of listed Eel River salmon and steelhead expires with PG&E’s license. And it’s NMFS that has put PG&E and federal dam regulators on notice that “the Project is causing take of ESA-listed salmonids.” And it is NMFS that has outlined the Interim Protective Measures that will, in fact, restrict Project operations.

McFadden sputters that Huffman “falsely claims hundreds of miles of a mythical Holy Grail of pristine spawning grounds upstream of Lake Pillsbury when in fact there are fewer than 50 miles.” But again, it’s McFadden, stubborn as a donkey, who’s refusing to follow the facts.

NMFS researchers just assessed the salmon and steelhead habitat blocked by Scott dam for the past century. Their paper shows dam removal will be like adding another of the Eel’s most productive tributaries, with between 105 and 290 miles of steelhead habitat. The upper basin has cold water habitat lacking downriver, essential for juvenile steelhead growth and for protection from voracious pikeminnow introduced by the Project. The scientists found “enabling access to the blocked Upper Mainstem subbasin could likely support populations of winter-run steelhead trout, summer-run steelhead trout, and fall-run Chinook salmon, even during warm months and during exceptionally warm and dry years like 2015.”

Of course, McFadden’s not dumb. He knows all this stuff. But he has many acres of vineyards to water and his own hydroelectric plant to run. McFadden’s real problem is that he wants to keep getting plenty of Eel River water at far below its true cost. But Potter Valley’s demand that someone else pay hundreds of millions of dollars upfront and tens of millions of dollars a year just to keep the obsolete, fish-killing Eel River dams in place was always a pipe dream.

That’s why McFadden is braying insults.

Scott Greacen
Conservation Director

Friends of the Eel River
Humboldt County