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Potter Valley Project Update

In the form of a grant described as coming from a “brand-new” source of infrastructure funding, the group hoping to continue diversions from the Eel River to the Russian River in Mendocino County has received $2 million from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, federal officials announced during a visit to Ukiah Friday.

“Your success is reclamation’s success, and we are committed to that,” Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner M. Camille Calimlim Touton told the group gathered at Coyote Valley Dam along Lake Mendocino June 7 to hear Rep. Jared Huffman (D — San Rafael) announce the award of $2 million to the Eel-Russian River Authority to help the group of regional stakeholders study how best to approach the possible continued diversion of Eel River water to the Russian River once the dams created for the Potter Valley Project have been removed, a plan being called the Two-Basin Solution.

“This is the first iteration of Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration funding, it’s brand-new, and we have $250 million, so I anticipate as we move forward there will be other funding announcements with that which you should all look out for,” Calimlim Touton added when officials were asked: “if infrastructure were built to continue diversions, where will the funding come from to operate and maintain it?”

As for the process of officially decommissioning the Potter Valley Project and removing the dams, Huffman acknowledged that Pacific Gas and Electric, the owner of the hydroelectric facility as well as Scott Dam and Cape Horn Dam, had recently requested a six-month extension to the timeline previously established by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“This is a decommissioning process that’s moving pretty rapidly, if you compare it to other FERC proceedings, and there was a question, given the demands of that schedule, about whether PG&E would be able to incorporate, and fully collaborate with, the Russian-Eel Authority on their design and construction of a new diversion facility,” Huffman said. “Because PG&E is taking out Cape Horn Dam, and the folks with the authority need some time to finish the design and think about how we’re going to choreograph the removal of that dam with the building of this new, fish-friendly diversion facility.

“Ideally, that stuff should all work together, and there was some question, given the schedule, about whether PG&E would just need to race ahead with decommissioning and allow all the rest to happen separately, without integration,” Huffman continued. “And I don’t often praise delay, but I think the good news with this delay is that it gives the space and the time for that integration, and it should make everything work better.”

“We remain committed to getting our surrender application in to support the two-basin solution and goals within that timeframe,” said a representative from PG&E, describing the utility as “really pleased that we are now at a point in the surrender process that we can support, and will support, the proponents’ Two-Basin Solution by including it within our surrender application that we submit to FERC.”

“For a hundred years, people have been arguing about what to do in each of these outstandingly remarkable rivers,” Charlton “Chuck” Bonham, director of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, told the group. “And for my lifetime in this job, people have been arguing about ‘what will you do for the fisheries, and the Tribal nations and the communities that depend on both rivers from sea to source?’ and it’s time to solve some problems.

“How do you solve problems? You do it with relationships,” Bonham continued, pointing to Huffman and Calimlim Touton, as well as the many state and local officials involved in the process as building a “strong coalition that will only get stronger,” and that it was time to “stop talking and do this.”

When asked if and how the interests of Lake County were being included in discussions, Huffman said he knows that his support of removing Scott Dam as part of the Two-Basin Solution “does not make me the most popular guy in Lake County (because that means the loss of Lake Pillsbury), but it’s PG&E’s dam, and they’re removing it, but I want this to work for Lake County, and I am convinced that it can.”

Huffman pointed to a recently awarded state grant that will help Lake County officials “study the impacts and the different mitigation strategies that might be implemented for the reality after Lake Pillsbury goes away,” and noted that the county will not just get “some muddy wasteland” replacing Lake Pillsbury, but a “wild, scenic river full of salmon and Steelhead Trout.”

Bonham agreed, asking people to not “forget about the benefits. I love all of our 58 counties, and we’re going to get to an outcome that will work for Sonoma, Marin, Humboldt and Lake County,” he said, echoing Huffman’s comments about having a river full of fish. “Fishing for Steelhead up there, or salmon? Oh, my God! Don’t forget about the benefits.”

(Ukiah Daily Journal)


  1. Jim Armstrong June 15, 2024

    “Fishing for Steelhead up there, or salmon? Oh, my God! Don’t forget about the benefits.”

    Even if that could happen, it wouldn’t be worth a tenth of what will be lost.

  2. Robert Gates June 15, 2024

    As long there are pike in the river the young salmon, steelhead and lamprays have a slim chance of survival

  3. Jim Armstrong June 15, 2024

    What will be lost is a green and productive Potter Valley with a water table suitable for living and capable of protecting it from fire.

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