We’re encouraged by the progress we are making toward Eel River dam removal. PG&E seems eager to rid themselves of this liability-ridden project. It’s our job to make sure dam removal comes in time to save the Eel’s native fish. With your support, Friends of the Eel River will keep the pressure on PG&E and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ensure Scott and Cape Horn dams come down as soon as possible. After more than a century, we look forward to welcoming anadromous fish back to the cold waters of the upper basin once again.
By the time you’re reading this letter, PG&E’s initial draft decommissioning plan for the Potter Valley Project should be out! PG&E will present two options for public comment: PG&E’s proposal to remove both dams and cap the diversion tunnel to preserve the option for a future diversion, and a proposal from Sonoma Water which seeks to purchase PG&E’s water right and build a new diversion works on the Eel. While the Russian River proposal has attracted conditional support from various interests, many important details remain to be resolved. Click here for guidance on how to submit comments to PG&E. And stay tuned next year for another round of comments on the final draft due to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in May.
In October we held a great event facilitating important conversations about the Great Redwood Trail. FOER believes the trail is a rare opportunity to address legacy impacts from the defunct rail line, especially lingering toxic pollution from old mill sites and the dangerous debris left in the river from past derailments. The trail also provides opportunities for enhancing public access and introducing a new generation to this wild landscape. Finally, we believe the trail opens the door to opportunities for land returns to Indigenous people and provides new opportunities to share more complete histories of this diverse region. Our Great Redwood Trail Friends coalition is currently working to ensure public access to the trail and Van Duzen River is restored at Fisher Road off of Hwy 36. Please be in touch if you want to learn more about our engagement with the trail project.
Our litigation challenging Humboldt County’s failure to protect public trust values at risk from groundwater use in the Lower Eel basin is still ongoing in Humboldt County Superior Court. During dry conditions, flows in the lower river typically range from 14 – 30 cfs. Studies prepared for the County’s Groundwater Sustainability Plan showed that groundwater pumping can reduce surface flows in the river by about 14 cfs during typical use. This means that during dry conditions, which happen more frequently and with greater intensity than in the past, groundwater use which the County could, but does not, regulate can significantly reduce surface flow. We look forward to working with the County to ensure that adverse effects of groundwater use in the lower river are minimized.
Next year FOER will continue expanding our new program area, focused on the big picture of increasing demands on Eel River water. This will include monitoring Clean Water Act violations, improving water rights applications, and addressing demands on both surface water and subsurface water which is often connected to surface water. Part of this engagement means sometimes filing “protests” of water rights applications. This term has a negative connotation for some, but that’s not how we see it. Our interventions are intended to improve necessary water projects; we want to help our neighbors all be true friends of the Eel River.
We also look forward to exploring more of the watershed next year by air, water, and land. We hope to once again facilitate EcoFlights for youth and elected leaders in Round Valley, and will host public hikes in less often explored regions of the watershed. Catch us at events next year and paint a fish to help decorate our office and celebrate dam removal. We’re about 1/3 of the way to our goal of 77 fish to commemorate the demise of the Potter Valley Project (identified as P-77 by FERC).
But of course our focus next year will remain Eel River dam removal. PG&E’s final draft decommissioning plan will be filed with FERC in May, with a final plan due in January 2025. A lot of details need to be worked out between now and then. We’ll need your help again in May to support the most beneficial options for Eel River fisheries.
We are forever grateful for your support, your actions for the river, and your spirit of stewardship. Together, we can Free the Eel and ensure our resilient native fish persist.
For the fishes,