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Potter Valley Project As We Know It Is Dead

PG&E is getting rid of its obsolete, dangerous and expensive Potter Valley Project on the Eel River. PG&E has declined to re-license the project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and no other qualified entity is interested. Time is up: the license will be surrendered, and the project will be decommissioned.

PG&E recognizes that its century-old hydropower project loses money on the electricity generated (now shut down for the next few years due to major equipment failure), and was poorly designed and constructed too close to an earthquake fault and large, active landslide. It kills and harms protected salmon and steelhead. Cape Horn Dam’s fish ladder is poorly designed, easily clogged with sediment and debris, and prevents the fish from volitional migration passage up and downstream. Scott Dam (forming Lake Pillsbury) is too high for a fish ladder, blocking access to more than 280 miles of superb cold-water salmonid habitat, according to recent National Marine Fisheries Service study, and does not meet current standards for safety and stability. In short, the Potter Valley Project is a major liability. That’s not a “radical” evaluation, but reality.

Instead of recognizing that these changes will happen, some people are bitter, disingenuous and increasingly obstructionist. They built wealth using the cheap imported water from Potter Valley Project diversions. They’ve smeared our congressman, Jared Huffman, who has worked hard to guide and help craft a solution for the divergent interests of Eel River fisheries recovery and Russian River water supply reliability.

By hanging on to a delusion that the Potter Valley Project should not change, they are ramping up conflicts and confusion for Russian River stakeholders for decades to come. It’s time to move on with the well-reasoned and modeled proposals for dam removal and run-of-the-river diversions from the Eel to Lake Mendocino and other storage.

Beneficiaries of water taken from the Eel River can recognize the inevitable changes coming and create an agency in Sonoma and Mendocino counties that can modernize, fund, own, operate and maintain the useful components of the 115-year-old Potter Valley Project. PG&E will undam the Eel, and we can honor the necessity of volitional salmonid passage and full recovery of the once magnificent Eel River, while providing long-term seasonal augmentation to water naturally flowing in the Russian River.

(David Keller is Bay Area director for Friends of the Eel River. He lives in Petaluma.)


  1. Jim Armstrong May 23, 2022

    This letter has gained nothing in accuracy, understanding of the matter or fairness since the AVA first published it a few weeks ago.
    It isn’t worth bringing up those shortcomings again, but it would be interesting to know why it was offered up a second time.

    • Bruce Anderson May 23, 2022

      Because we’re old and forgetful. Mercy, Jim.

      • John Robert May 23, 2022

        Gaslighting more likely.

  2. Dave May 23, 2022

    Too bad FOER and David Keller don’t deal in facts. These clowns have changed their story a dozen times over the three years this has been going on. Backing whoever is the next one up. The dam is far from coming down and the real sad part is the lake and the dam are actually GOOD for the fish in the river and the habitat, according to the fisheries biologist that lake county hired (The county the actual river is on by the way) I wish they would focus on fixing the real problems in the eel river and not just focus on taking down dams. My gosh, if they spent the $500,000,000 + they want spent tearing down the dam actually fixing the challenges the salmon and steelhead face in the Eel then they would really be doing something. Instead they waste everyones time and their money with legal filings and not actually doing anything for the fish they claim to support. Maybe they should change the name of the FOER to All We Care About is Tearing Down Dams. Many of use are tired of hearing their false facts and constant plan changes with the consistent theme of telling others what to do (PG&E, FERC, etc.) I wish they would focus their time and letters on something good like the river clean up day and fixing the river.

    • Ryan Webb May 24, 2022

      You speed boat owners are all the same. No one is going to pay the hundreds of millions of dollars to keep failing infrastructure just so you can slam some cold ones on the lake and get a sunburn. No one can afford the dams, including PG&E and no one is dumb enough to take on the liability of owning them. Case in point, the electrical generator is currently broken. Water users might rally to try to keep a diversion, but Lake Pillsbury is a goner and water will be stored in Lake Mendo where vineyards can still get their cut. Writing is on the wall.

    • Sick of lies. May 25, 2022

      We have to be able to reflect back how all these things originated in the first place. Long before the dams the salmon runs were vital and super important. Nobody cared about running a speed boat on a lake. Scares the fish anyway. How did the world ever survive or anything ever happen before these last hundred years of misplaced interventions and overinflated egos?

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