Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Russian River Water Forum Takes Shape Gearing Up to Acquire the Potter Valley Project

The Cape Horn Dam and Van Arsdale Reservoir on the Eel River an essential part of the infrastructure for the Potter Valley power plant [Photograph from CalTrout]

It was surprising to receive notice of a meeting scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on Good Friday, the beginning of Easter weekend. The people who are working to ensure a secure water supply for users of the Upper Russian River water know that time is of the essence. The Planning Group of the Russian River Water Forum (RRWF) needs to get up and running. Janet Pauli led the meeting at the offices of the Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission (MCIWPC)

Pauli began with a brief recap of prior efforts to secure rights to water coming from the Eel River to the Russian River through the diversion tunnel of the Potter Valley Project. In the past, PG&E generated hydroelectric power using water from the diversion, under a license issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). As reported in the MendoFever article dated March 31, PG&E decided not to renew its license, and not to repair the broker transformer at the Power House. In 2019, the Two Basin Solution Partnership was formed to attempt to apply for the license PG&E held so they could operate the diversion. The Two Basin partnership was not able to meet the application deadline of April 14, 2022. FERC instructed PG&E to begin the process of surrendering the license. The deadline for PG&E to submit its surrender plan is approximately the end of December 2024. 

The RRWF was formed, in part, to create a new entity that could negotiate with PG&E to acquire the diversion facilities. Pauli said, “The biggest problem we have is time.” The group also needs to come up with funding to acquire the facilities. Some have proposed the California State Water Resources Control Board (DWR) can help with funding the acquisition. After that, the water users would pay for the water and the costs of operating the facilities. 

The Planning Group will be comprised of representatives from:

  • Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino and Sonoma County Governments
  • Tribes from Eel and Russian River basins
  • Water Suppliers
  • Environmental NGOs
  • Agricultural Interests
  • Resource Conservation Districts
  • Recreation Interests

The Planning Group meetings will be public. The Planning Group representatives are not expected to reach a consensus on every issue. Kearns and West, a collaboration and strategic communications firm, will act as Planning Group facilitators. The idea is to share ideas, review studies, and evaluate solutions and alternatives for water supply and protection for the environment and fisheries. This will be an advisory group, gathering information from the representatives to send to the Leadership Council, which will be comprised of Tribal leadership and County, State, and Federal elected officials and staff.

It was announced at the meeting that the Planning Group Representatives from Mendocino County will be:

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Mendocino County GovernmentSupervisor Glenn McGourtySupervisor Mo Mulheren
Water Suppliers:
Mendocino County Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District (RRFC)Elizabeth Salomone, General ManagerChristopher Watt, President
Redwood Valley County Water DistrictBree Klotter, Board MemberAdam Gaska, Board President
City of UkiahSean White, Water and Sewer DirectorJuan Orozco, City Council Member
MCIWPCJanet Pauli, Commissioner and ChairTyler Rodrigue
AgricultureBrandon AxellGuinness McFadden
Mendocino County Resource Conservation District (MCRCD)Cathy Monroe, Board MemberDenise Woods

In addition to the Planning Group, there will be 4 or 5 Working Groups, whose meetings will not be open to the public. For now, these are the anticipated working groups and some proposed topics they may cover:

  • Water Supply and Fisheries
    • In the future, what kind of diversion will be able to sustain the economy and quality of life
    • Would continuation of diversion benefit or harm fisheries
    • Conservation to reduce demand for water from Lake Mendocino
  • Finance and Economics
    • Cost and funding to acquire the diversion 
    • Future water cost per acre/foot
    • Costs and funding of legal counsel
  • Governance and Decommissioning
    • How should a regional entity be formed, and who will manage it
    • Who is willing to fund and manage the diversion
    • How will regional entity interact with other stakeholders
  • Water Rights
    • Attorneys are currently working on water rights
    • Securing rights in the future for current rights holders and water users
    • Must keep fisheries legal

An audience member commented that so far this process was moving like mud. He thought Kearns and West were supposed to handle this. Answer: The Planning group meetings will be transparent, and open to press and public. Everyone is welcome to follow the progress.

Previously, Congressman Mike Thompson of Lake County, and the Lake County Board of Supervisors and County Counsel have expressed strong support for consideration of people’s livelihoods in the face of PG&E’s withdrawal. The RRWF website has a link to news articles about the process, as well as an email sign-up sheet to receive updates. 

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  1. Cape Horn Dam and its crappy Van Arsdale fish ladder — the tallest and longest in California — are extremely serious threats to ESA-listed Eel River steelhead and Chinook. Far from being necessary to a continued wet-season diversion from the Eel River, they are absolutely incompatible with the ‘no impact on the Eel’ principle that Eel River advocates have insisted on in agreeing a diversion could possibly continue.
    Russian River interests like Pauli simply refuse to acknowledge these problems because they don’t like the inevitable answers. But reality is moving very quickly now.

    • Most of the same players already went through this exercise. No Janet, time is not the biggest problem, reality is. It is time to reconnect over two hundred miles of high quality spawning habitat to one of the most endangered rivers in the US. There has never been mitigation for the invasive Pike Minnow that according to former CDF&G biologist Larry Week consume one third of all Salmon smolts in the entire Eel River system. Lake Pillsbury continues to serve as a Pike Minnow hatchery. PG&E and other seismic analysis revealed the dam is unsafe and is planning to lower the level of the lake to take pressure off. the caring people of Potter Valley are insisting that not happen. This puts their personal benefits above the safety of downstream resident and communities. True colors. I have been retired from fishery issues like this but will step up with my first hand knowledge and experience as; an Eel river fishing guide, stream restoration expert, former Chair of the Mendocino County Fish and Game Commission (notably absent for county representatives on the list) and intervener in the FERC relicensing process. I will pack my three minute allotted testimony time with science. This groups aim is to use political power to override science.


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Monica Huettl
Monica Huettl
Mendocino County Resident, Annoying Horse Girl.

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