What is the future of the Eel and Russian River watersheds?
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is in the beginning stages of a 5 year-long process of re-licensing the Potter Valley Project, which provides water to Potter Valley and hundreds of thousands of users downstream in Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin counties. Join us in learning about the process and how we can shape the future of water in our communities.
Our mission is to support healthy working landscapes, communities and ecosystems in the Russian and Eel River watersheds. Our primary goals are to share accurate and timely information about the FERC relicensing process, to engage citizens in dialog and to encourage action around this incredibly important and complex issue. We want every person living within these watersheds to understand:
- What is the Potter Valley Project?
- How is PV Project water used by our communities?
- What is the PV Project's role in the environment?
- Why and how could the current management change?
We are a group of concerned citizens - an unlikely combination of agriculturalists and ecologists - who identify with both the Russian and Eel River watersheds and share a deep love of the land. We envision a vibrant future for these watersheds and believe it’s possible to better manage our activities to be more supportive of freshwater dependent ecosystems, while sustaining local agriculture and communities that rely on the water in both watersheds. We believe we must all be active participants constructively seeking solutions for this future.
The role the Potter Valley Project plays in the economy and ecology of the Eel and Russian River watersheds is complex, with over a century of history, and interacts with many other factors of change. Balancing ecosystem needs with human demands for water is no simple matter. The relicensing process is expected to be controversial, but we hope that energy can instead be directed toward constructive resolutions. We are committed to educating ourselves and others about the subtleties at hand so that we can be better informed throughout the FERC relicensing process and beyond.
What is the Potter Valley Project?
What began in 1905 as a project to divert water from the Eel River into Potter Valley and the headwaters of the Russian River to produce hydropower for Ukiah and the surrounding region has since become even more important as a source of irrigation and drinking water for communities downstream.
The Potter Valley Project (PVP, PV Project or The Project) is operated by PG&E and consists of several components, the most upstream of which is Scott Dam on the Eel River. Scott Dam forms Lake Pillsbury, which provides storage of water that is released downstream in the summer. Some of this water is diverted into Potter Valley at Cape Horn Dam, 12 miles downstream of Scott Dam. As a run-of-the-river dam, Cape Horn Dam stores relatively little water in its Van Arsdale reservoir. Fish passage facilities for migrating salmon, steelhead, and lamprey are in place at Van Arsdale, though there is no passage at Scott Dam. Water releases below Scott Dam are managed for the diversion as well as in support of Eel River fisheries.
After passing through tunnels and penstocks, it drops into the 9.2 MW Potter Valley Powerhouse at the north end of the valley and subsequently flows into the headwaters of the Russian River. This is a substantial source of water in the East Branch Russian River and to dependent users. The water subsequently flows into Lake Mendocino and down the rest of the 96 miles of the Russian River to the Pacific Ocean at Jenner.
How is PV Project water used by our communities?
The most upstream group of water users is the farming community of Potter Valley, which is almost entirely dependent upon Project water. Downstream, over 500,000 people in the communities along the Russian River and their agricultural economies have evolved with this water over the last 100 years. The counties of Mendocino and Sonoma are known for their diverse agriculture, largely composed of family owned farms, supplying quality fresh local produce, much of it organic, and supporting the local economy. This is made possible, in large part, by Project water. The water also provides recreation opportunities at Lake Pillsbury and Lake Mendocino.
What is the PV Project's role in the environment?
As a water infrastructure project involving dams and diversions, the Potter Valley Project’s impact on Eel River populations of salmon, steelhead and the riverine ecosystem as a whole is not insignificant. Some of the main concerns are loss of juvenile salmon rearing habitat above Scott Dam, altered flows below the dam adversely affecting salmon and steelhead migration and juvenile rearing habitat, summer water temperatures, and predatory non-native pikeminnow.
The Project is not the only change Eel River ecosystems have experienced. The system cannot be returned to the past, but there are many things that can be done to improve the health of salmon and steelhead populations and overall ecosystem resilience. A recent report of the multi-stakeholder Eel River Forum formed by CalTrout discusses the multiple interacting pressures affecting the Eel River fisheries. These include: “project operations and flows, natural flow conditions, natural flood events, illegal water diversions, summer meteorological conditions, timber harvest, livestock grazing, agriculture (including marijuana cultivation), introduction of invasive species (e.g., Sacramento Pikeminnow), artificial propagation of salmon and steelhead, and ocean conditions.” Various hydroclimatic changes due to climate change pose additional risks. It is clear there are no simple fixes for this system and taking a whole-of-system approach is necessary.
Another consideration is that Project water now also plays a role in meeting environmental flow requirements for fisheries in the Russian River.
Why and how could the current management change?
Every 30-50 years, the operation of large dams are reassessed in a relicensing process conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The licensee of the Project, PG&E in this case, files for the license renewal in a complex and lengthy process that involves initial scoping documents, a study period, environmental review (NEPA and CEQA), and license submission with appropriate certifications. Public comment periods occur throughout. Alternatives to the status quo are considered and compared for their environmental and socio-economic impacts. These include impacts to fisheries and aquatic ecosystems of the Eel and Russian Rivers, water users along the Eel and Russian Rivers, and water storage in Lake Mendocino. Alternatives include various changes to the amount and timing of water released from Scott Dam, additional fish passage facilities, as well as the decommissioning of some or all of the components of the Project.
The only other relicensing of the project, a process that began in 1972, involved extensive negotiation, including a 10-year study examining impacts of flows on salmon and steelhead as well as substantial changes to the timing and amount of flows released, including block water releases, to better meet needs for Eel River fisheries.
With the potential for substantial curtailment of water for irrigation and drinking water, people are understandably concerned for their livelihoods and communities. Upstream of Lake Mendocino and nearly entirely dependent on Project water, Potter Valley residents are particularly concerned.
Where are we in the FERC Relicensing Timeline?
Project Scoping: COMPLETED
- July 5, 2017 FERC conducts public scoping meeting and site visit
- August 4, 2017 Deadline for participants to file comments on Notice of Intent/Pre-Application Document and SO1, and provide study requests
Study Plan Development: Current Phase
- October 18, 2017 PG&E conducts initial study plan meeting
- December 17, 2017 Participants file comments on Proposed Study Plan
- January 16, 2017 PG&E files revised study plan
- January 31, 2018 Deadline for participants to file comments on Revised Study plan
- February 15, 2018 FERC issues Study Plan Determination
*If no disputes arise at this point, the process moves into the next phase where actual studies begin. If there are further disputes, the comment and revision period is extended until May 16, 2018.
Conduct Studies: Next Phase
- February 15, 2019 PG&E files progress report and Initial Study Report
- March 2, 2019 PG&E conducts Initial Study Report Meeting
- March 17, 2019 PG&E files Initial Study Report Meeting Summary, including any study modifications or new studies
- April 16, 2019 deadline for FERC and participants to file disagreement with Initial Study Report Meeting Summary
*If no disagreements are filed, the Initial Study Report Meeting Summary and proposed study plans amendments will be approved by FERC and studies will continue. If disagreements are filed, participants have until May 16, 2019 to respond to those disagreements. All disagreements and study plans to be amended and approved by June 15, 2019 at which point studies will continue.
- February 15, 2020 PG&E files progress report and Updated Study Report
- March 1, 2020 PG&E conducts Updated Study Report Meeting
- March 16, 2020 PG&E files Updated Study Report Meeting Summary, including any study modifications or new studies
- April 15, 2020 deadline for FERC and participants to file disagreement with Updated Study Report Meeting Summary
*If no disagreements are filed, the Updated Study Report Meeting Summary and proposed study plans amendments will be approved by FERC. If disagreements are filed, participants have until May 15, 2020 to respond to those disagreements. All disagreements and study plans to be amended and approved by June 14, 2020.
Filing of License Application: Final Phase
- February 13, 2020 deadline for FERC and participants to file comments on Preliminary Licensing Proposal or Draft License Application
- April 14, 2020 deadline for PG&E to file License Application
Sign up for FERC updates
Get notifications straight from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission by registering on the FERC Online e-subscriptions site. Enter docket P-77 and you will receive email updates throughout the relicensing process.
Join our Mailing List
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Learn more about the issues
History of the Potter Valley Project from the Potter Valley Irrigation District (PVID).
Facts and Fiction about the Potter Valley Project from Potter Valley Irrigation District (PVID).
Overview & History of Potter Valley Project from PG&E Stakeholder Meeting, March 9, 2017.
The Eel River Forum A multi-stakeholder group convened by CalTrout.
Eel River Action Plan developed by the Eel River Forum in 2016. "The plan identifies priority actions needed to recover the Eel River watershed and its native fish. It aims to achieve these goals while maintaining multiple land uses and recreation in the watershed. Priority actions in the plan address water diversions, water quality issues, habitat restoration, community engagement and protecting the Eel River Delta."
Press Democrat article, April 8, 2017 'Fate of flows in Russian and Eel rivers rests in big fight over small hydroelectric project'
Contact our representatives
Here is a sample letter that you can copy and paste or use as a jumping off point, as well as the contact information for our local elected officials: Representative Huffman, Senator Boxer, Senator Feinstein, State Senator McGuire State Assemblyman Wood.
Dear Representative/ Senator/ Assemblyman,
I am writing today to express my concern about the ongoing Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing process for the Potter Valley Project (PVP). As a resident of the Russian River Watershed, I am extremely concerned that the current relicensing process may impact the availability of water in the Russian River.
As I am sure you are aware, the delivery of water to the Russian River from the PVP is vital to the continued availability of water in the Russian River watershed, from the headwaters of the East Fork all the way to mouth of the river. Communities in Mendocino, Sonoma, and Marin counties rely upon this water for domestic, agricultural, recreational, and environmental use. Removal of these flows would be catastrophic for the communities, businesses, and the over half million people relying upon this vital resource.
I realize that there are impacts of the Potter Valley Project on the Eel River watershed, including the blocking of salmonid habitat above Scott Dam. I am concerned about this and other impacts, and I welcome considerations of how to mitigate this impact in the FERC relicensing process. However, it must be noted that the PVP, as currently managed, also provides environmental benefit to both the Eel and Russian River watersheds, as well as the aforementioned tremendous social and economic benefits to the entire region. Given the reality of living in a Mediterranean climate, and that drought conditions are likely to become more intense over time, this project is a key component in providing needed flexibility in managing water resources for people and the environment.
I trust that you will do everything in your power to ensure that this valuable project will continue into the future, and that future modifications will be undertaken with the wellbeing of all communities in mind.
Jared Huffman (D) – 1st District
Congress of the United States
1630 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Tel:  225-5161 FAX:  225-5163
Web site: http://huffman.house.gov/
430 North Franklin Street,
PO Box 2208
Fort Bragg, CA 95437
Tel:  962-0933 FAX:  962-0905 fax
559 Low Gap Road
Ukiah, CA 95482
Phone/Fax:  671-7449
CA State Senator
200 South School St.
Ukiah, CA 95482
Tel:  468-8914 FAX:  468-8931
Barbara Boxer (D)
112 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
Tel:  224-3353 FAX:  224-0454
Web site: http://boxer.senate.gov/
1700 Montgomery St., Ste. 240
San Francisco, CA 94111
Tel:  403-0100 FAX:  224-0454
Dianne Feinstein (D)
331 Hart Senate Office Bldg.
Washington, DC 20510
Tel:  224-3841 FAX:  228-3954 fax
Web site: http://www.feinstein.senate.gov/
One Post Street, Suite 2450
San Francisco, CA 94104
 393-0707 ~  393-0710
Ca State Assembly
Jim Wood (D) – 2nd District
P.O. Box 942849
Sacramento, CA 94249-0002
Tel:  319-2002 FAX:  319-2102
Web site: http://www.asmdc.org/members/a02/
200 S. School Street, Suite D
Ukiah, CA 95482
Tel:  463-5770 FAX:  463-5773