Once in a lifetime opportunity on the Eel River

The Van Arsdale diversion dam on the Eel River, part of the Potter Valley Project.

Today the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a solicitation for applications to relicense the Potter Valley Project (PVP) on California's Eel River. This notice is a formal response to the Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s intent to relinquish ownership and not to seek relicense of this project.

The Eel River was once a legendary steelhead and salmon fishery and was one of the steelhead waters profiled in the film Rivers of the Lost Coast. TU, through our North Coast Coho Project, coastal streamflow stewardship program, and our Redwood Empire and Golden Gate Chapters, has invested heavily over the past two decades in restoring habitat and improving fish passage and dry season streamflows in this watershed.

(L) TU restoration project site, Eel River watershed.

The PVP—two aging dams and major diversion infrastructure in the upper watershed which block salmon and steelhead from 150 miles of prime spawning and rearing habitat—has been unprofitable for many years. Today’s FERC notice provides a 120-day window of opportunity for other potential project operators to express interest in taking over the project and then 18 months to prepare an application to do so.

Brian Johnson, California Director for Trout Unlimited, said, “This latest step in the PVP relicensing process highlights again the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity we have to forge a comprehensive and collaborative water solution that restores fish passage, respects tribal interests, and provides reliable water for both the Eel and the Russian River basins.”

TU and other parties to Rep. Jared Huffman’s Ad Hoc Committee for the Potter Valley Project continue to monitor the PVP relicensing process closely and to advance opportunities to achieve the goals of (1) improving fish passage and habitat on the Eel River sufficient to support recovery of self-sustaining and harvestable anadromous fish populations, including migratory access upstream and downstream at the current dam locations; and, (2) minimizing or preventing adverse impacts to water supply reliability, fisheries, water quality and recreation in the Russian and Eel Rivers.

This recent opinion editorial by TU's California Director Brian Johnson and CalTrout executive director Curtis Knight lays out the its implications of the PVP relicensing process for the once-abundant runs of salmon and steelhead in the Eel River. You can help TU ensure a good outcome for fish and people in this process by making a donation to TU’s Eel River restoration campaign.



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