On June 12 the Planning Group of the Russian River Water Forum held an online meeting facilitated by Ben Gettleman and Jim Downing of Kearns & West. The Planning Group is comprised of a large group of stakeholders in the Eel and Russian River watersheds who are seeking solutions for sustainable water sources and habitat restoration of the two river basins, in response to PG&E’s decision to surrender its license to operate the Potter Valley Project.
Gettleman said of the initial Planning Group meeting on May 17, “We really wanted to paint the whole landscape,” as far as mapping out the positions of the various stakeholders, and that it was “a productive start to this conversation together.”
Planning Group Charter Revisions
A consensus seemed to be reached on the Planning Group Charter with surprisingly minor revisions. Because the Planning Group is not a voting group, the charter provides for a Steering Committee to help with decisions.
The External Communications Guidelines section of the charter was discussed and clarified. It is essential that the general public in the watersheds be informed of the issues before the RRWF. Planning Group members may share publicly available documents. However, if a member is asked to make a public statement on behalf of the Planning Group, they first need to consult with the facilitation team and Steering Committee.
The Planning Group agreed to add three additional members: The Lake Pillsbury Alliance; Save California Salmon, represented by Nikcole Whipple, and the Robinson Rancheria Tribe in Lake County. Going forward, the Steering Committee will decide whether new parties can join the Planning Group.
Planning Group Decision Making
Gettleman proposed that when discussing issues, the Planning Group strive for consensus, but it will not be possible to achieve agreement on every issue. He suggested that the group seek solutions that everyone can live with. If a proposal is unacceptable, an explanation and alternative solution should be provided. The Steering Committee will step in when the Planning Group is not able to agree. Ideally, the Planning Group will be able to satisfy multiple interests.
Summary of Planning Group Member Interests
Jim Downing reviewed the categories of group member interests identified at the initial Planning Group meeting, with some major topics in parentheses:
- Collaboration and Process (finding solutions that all parties can live with)
- Watershed Resiliency (identifying water supply alternatives for the Russian River Basin)
- Water Supply and Water Management (allocation of water supply in the Russian River)
- Fisheries and Habitat Restoration (restoration of harvestable surplus of salmon in Eel and Russian Rivers)
- Economic Development and Recreation (developing jobs in fisheries, sustaining agriculture and recreation)
- Tribal Interests (protecting tribal culture, sharing tribal knowledge, economic self-sufficiency)
- Lake Pillsbury (ecological restoration if dam removal proceeds)
- Finance (paying for costs of possible continued diversion and compensation for damage to Eel River)
PG&E Decommissioning Schedule
PG&E representatives have been invited to attend Planning Group meetings, but so far have not attended. Kearns & West briefed PG&E representatives on the results of the May 17 meeting. PG&E provided clarification of positions discussed by the Planning Group at the May 17 meeting.
- PG&E’s decommissioning plan will include the removal of in-water facilities such that no feature will continue to impound water and the natural flow of the river will occur.
- PG&E is open to proposals for project facilities. PG&E hopes that there is buy-in by multiple stakeholders.
- PG&E is continuing to evaluate Scott Dam and will mitigate any dam safety concerns as appropriate.
- PG&E is hopeful that FERC will issue its order for decommissioning by 2028.
- PG&E does not yet have a cost estimate for the removal of Scott Dam.
- As far as ratepayers paying for decommissioning, PG&E says that it will be less costly to remove the dams than it will be to continue to operate the facility.
An online MIRO planning tool was presented with proposed timelines for the Planning Committee and Working Groups. Members of these groups are able to place virtual sticky notes with comments on the timeline. Kearns & West will collect and analyze the comments.
Technical Briefings and Working Groups
Technical briefings for the Working Groups will be held on the following dates. Briefings will be via Zoom; registration will be forthcoming and available on the RRWF website. Technical briefings will be open to the public, and Working Group meetings will be closed.
- Water Supply & Fisheries: Wednesday, June 21, 9:00 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.
- Water Rights and Water Management: Thursday, June 22, 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
- Governance: to be discussed at the next Planning Group Meeting
- Economics & Finance: to be discussed at the next Planning Group Meeting
- Russian River Resiliency Subcommittee: Technical briefing sometime in July or August
This will be a small cross-interest group of Planning Group members, who will begin meeting in early July. Their role will be to advise and support the Planning and Working Groups; coordinate and communicate with PG&E; to help find a path forward when the Planning Group is unable to reach a consensus; and to engage and educate the community.
There were few public comments, compared to the initial meeting.
David Taber of the Palomino Lakes Mutual Water Company in Cloverdale, said that the Working Groups should be open to the public. He is concerned about environmental damage to the Russian River basin, and damage to the economy and property values if the diversion is ended.
Monty Schmitt of the Nature Conservancy supports allowing the public to attend committee meetings and to have a limited form of participation.
Carrie Shattuck, a candidate for Mendocino County District One Supervisor, said she would like to attend Working Group meetings to stay informed on the issues, even though she is not on the Planning Committee. (Note that Adam Gaska, Board Member of Redwood Valley County Water District, also running for District One Supervisor, is on the Planning Committee and several Working Groups).
Slides from the June 12 meeting are available on the RRWF website.
To learn more, please see previous MendoFever.com articles related to this subject: