PG&E’s announcement in January that they would abandon the Potter Valley Project hydroelectric facility that diverts water to the Russian River has set off a frenzy of activity in both watersheds. Many residents have no idea that much of the summer and fall upper river is sustained by the diversion from the Eel River that has devastated Eel River salmon populations. Without the diversion, Lake Mendocino, which feeds the upper Russian River, would go dry in over 50% of summers in the future.
At the same time, given the urgent need to restore Eel River salmon and provide economic opportunity to communities on the Eel, change is necessary. That is why Congressman Huffman catalyzed the formation of the Potter Valley Ad-Hoc Settlement Process two years ago to bring stakeholders from both watersheds together to work out solutions in partnership with PG&E. Russian Riverkeeper is a member representing the environmental interests of the Russian River. The ad-hoc group has been meeting since 2017 and has been making great progress.
Then, the fires hit. Then, a year ago PG&E announced they would auction the Potter Valley Project. Then the big shake-up this January – PG&E abandons the project. This sets off a process with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), that licenses all aspects of hydroelectric facilities, to seek a new operator to step into PG&E’s shoes by filing a Notice of Interest by July 1st. Any power generator or utility or Central Valley water buffalo could try to take over the facility by filing by July 1st. As a backstop, Sonoma Water (formerly SCWA), Cal Trout and a group of five Mendocino water providers, under Inland Water and Power, agreed to pitch in $100,000 each to conduct a Feasibility Study of costs and plan to own and operate the facility. At a recent Ad-Hoc group meeting Huffman stated he would like to see most of all of the stakeholders join the NOI and work as a group to explore ownership of the facility. RRK’s Board recently voted to join the NOI to give us a voice in the process as it unfolds. RRK sees a solution that leads to recovery of Eel River salmon while getting some water to Russian River users in times of surplus. It will take some work and many changes on the Russian River side, but with compromise we can improve the health, fisheries and water quality of both the Eel and Russian Rivers.
We’ll keep you updated as it unfolds. To learn more visit pottervalleyproject.org.
If the Eel River diversion ceased, Lake Mendocino would be almost empty each summer in half of future years. The Eel River’s namesake, the Pacific Lamprey is almost extinct too.