Steelhead Suffer While Bureaucracy Idles

One way to address the harms of the dams is to preserve a pool of cold water in the Lake Pillsbury Reservoir. The goal is to ensure that flow releases downstream from the dams remain cool enough to support the juvenile steelhead who spend a year or more in freshwater before migrating to the ocean.

Over the last decade, PG&E has requested permission to alter scheduled flows, known as a variance, at least eight times. Clearly, the project is unable to balance the out-of-basin diversion to the Russian River with keeping fish alive in the Eel River while adapting to faltering conditions of the aging infrastructure.

This is why in our recent comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission we ask the Commission to approve PG&E’s latest variance request on an emergency basis. Temperatures downstream from Scott Dam have already exceeded 16 degrees Celsius – a threshold that dam managers identified as a trigger to reduce diversions. At temperatures above 18 degrees C other species, like invasive pikeminnow, begin to outcompete native salmonids. Once temperatures reach about 21 degrees the conditions are lethal for salmon and steelhead. Click here to see the current water temperature just below Scott Dam, as of August 15 the temperature was 19.5 degrees.

The situation only underscores the urgent need for dam removal. If we want to prevent extinction of Northern California summer steelhead, the southernmost run of summer steelhead on Earth, we must allow the fish to access the cold water habitat above Scott Dam. And we must do it quickly.