Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Three Parties of the Russian River Water Forum Go Rogue Offering to Buy the Potter Valley Project

The Russian River swollen with rainwater in the winter of 2022 [Picture by Matt LaFever]

On August 17 the Russian River Water Forum held the fourth Planning Group meeting facilitated by Ben Gettleman of Kearns & West. This was an online meeting, with 75 participants on Zoom.

Gettleman started off by summarizing the July 13 Planning Group meeting, saying the group generally agreed that the diversion of Eel River water into the Russian River is needed in the short-term, with the goal of self-sufficiency in the long-term, while simultaneously pursuing the goal of the Two Basin Partnership to allow for Eel River fish passage. (For those who want to catch up on the prior meetings and the Eel River/Russian River issues, see links at the end of this article.)

On July 31, three members of the Russian River side of the Planning Group: Mendocino County Inland Power and Water Commission (IWPC), Sonoma Water, and the Round Valley Indian Tribes (RVIT), referred to as “the Proponents,” submitted a Proposal to PG&E calling for the creation of an interim agency to offer to purchase the Potter Valley diversion facilities, renamed the “New Eel and Russian Facility.”

Scott Shapiro, attorney for IWPC, said the proposal was a way to get a “foot in the door that was closing,” referring to PG&E’s stated preference that a proposal be submitted by July 31.

Erica Costa, attorney for RVIT, said “We’re in a box regarding this proposal.”

Mendocino County Supervisor Glenn McGourty said, “This is the first step. If we don’t get past this, the rest becomes somewhat moot.”

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Matt Clifford, Trout Unlimited, was not mollified by these statements and he questioned why there was no heads up to the rest of the Planning Group.

Shapiro said it was because of an NDA with PG&E that limited their ability to communicate with the rest of the group, but that “the Proposal will continue to be shaped by conversations with the Planning group as we move forward.”

Costa and Adam Brand, Sonoma County Chief Deputy County Counsel, concurred.

Clifford said he didn’t want to create the impression that the diversion was “needed.” He said there is not enough water to meet the current demand without the diversion.

Alicia Hamann, Friends of the Eel River, said that many in the Planning Group are there to monitor what is going on, and participation in the group is very time-consuming.

Shapiro said the proposal was “shaped significantly by the Planning Group, and prior work done by the Two Basin Partnership.”

Costa said the Proposal calls for designing a “facility that diverts and also fully implements co-equal objectives of fish migration and water diversion.” The goal is to achieve natural reproducing, self-sustaining, and harvestable native anadromous fish populations while continuing the diversion through the existing tunnel. The key part of this process is protecting the fishing and water rights of the RVIT.

Brand said the goal is for the regional entity to agree with PG&E on the terms of the purchase and sale agreement. Any additional costs and risks will be borne by the entity, and not by PG&E. The regional entity must receive support from the National Marine Fisheries Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, and other government agencies. The transferred license from FERC will be a non-power producing license. The reason given for not pursuing a new hydroelectric license is that a new power license would require starting this whole process from scratch.

Discussions with PG&E began on August 15, with only the three Proponents. The Proponents are scheduled to report back to PG&E on October 31 with the results of their consultations with NMFS, CDFW, and other agencies.

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CDFW agent Matt Myers said he wanted to make clear that so far his agency had not yet approved the Proposal.

On November 30, PG&E will release the draft license surrender application for its stakeholders’ consideration. On December 31, 2023, the Proponents will form a JPA as a regional entity to negotiate with PG&E.

The Proposal offers a choice between two design options for the diversion: 1) modify and lower Cape Horn dam, with a fish passage; and 2) remove the dam and create a roughened channel, that would allow diversion during rainy periods.

Dave Manning, Sonoma Water, said that the two designs both involve the removal of Cape Horn Dam, one involves gravity and one involves pumping. Both designs will be vetted by NMFS, CDFW, CalTrout, and US Fish and Wildlife.

Lake Pillsbury and Scott Dam appear to be slated for deconstruction, although this was not addressed in the Proposal. Shapiro said this Planning Group is not equipped to decide the order of facility removal.

Carol Cinquini, Lake Pillsbury Alliance, said that her group and other stakeholders would have liked to have been part of the process of drafting the Proposal.

Brand said the fate of Lake Pillsbury is up to PG&E.

PG&E announced that it will transfer the facilities to a new entity called Pacific Generation, a corporation controlled by PG&E. The issues still to be worked out involve financing for the project, capital improvements, water rights, governance, and water resiliency.

In response to criticism about lack of transparency, IWPC’s Janet Pauli said, “We were not under the impression that there was an alternative. PG&E has a timeline. The goals of the Two Basin Partnership were water supply and fish passage. If we get support from stakeholders and agencies, the faster it will get accepted.” The timeline was set by PG&E and Planning Group members’ suggestions are welcome.

Clifford responded that while he understood the concern about the deadline, there was no need to be secretive about it.

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David Taber, Palomino Lakes Mutual Water Company in Cloverdale, spoke on the complicated subject of water rights. He is working with Philip Williams, Ukiah City Attorney in the Water Rights Working Group. In the Upper Russian River, there are approximately 1,800 water rights, in the Lower Russian River, there are thousands. In the Eel, there are over 850 water rights. The water rights fall into six different categories, and all of them need to be listed and summarized. The general public and local government officials need to be informed of these complexities because most are not aware of the issues. The working group is hoping to deliver the water rights summary before the PG&E deadline of Nov. 23. The future will most likely include some form of water rationing and new ways to save water in response to climate change.

Public commenter John Almeida, experienced in Mendocino County construction issues, cautioned that removing the diversion would have a disastrous effect on the local economy.

The next Planning Group Meeting is September 7, from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm.

Check out our prior coverage of the Russian River Water Forum and the fate of the Potter Valley Project

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

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