Sunday, July 21, 2024

Mendocino County Faces Economic Challenges in a Future Without the Potter Valley Project—Letter to the Editor


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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]

Dear Editor-

PG&E has submitted its Initial Draft Surrender Application and Decommissioning Plan for the Potter Valley Project. The utility has accepted the proposal from Inland Water and Power Commission of Mendocino County (IWPC), Sonoma Water, and the Round Valley Indian Tribes to include two options to continue diverting water from the Eel River to the Russian River as alternatives to complete decommissioning. The alternatives propose to entirely remove Scott Dam, which creates Lake Pillsbury and much of Cape Horn Dam, which creates Van Arsdale Reservoir, then either construct a bladder dam to be used seasonally, to allow water to be diverted by gravity flow, or to install a pumping station. Both alternative options would only divert water seasonally during the winter/spring season when flows are high.

PG&E has made the draft available to the public, and is accepting comments until December 22nd. In May of 2024, after considering public comment, PG&E will submit the draft proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

If decommissioning of the dams moves forward, we need to prepare for the inevitable. We need to have projects and plans in place to adapt to the new situation. This will require a great deal of collaboration between stakeholders, and local, state and federal officials. This will also require a great deal of money which neither the County nor our community has. We risk losing out much like we did with the building of Coyote Dam if the water is allocated based on ability to pay. We need state and federal funding to secure for Mendocino County an equitable amount of the water that will continue to be diverted. We also need to raise Coyote Dam to increase our storage capacity.

The changes in water availability will greatly impact water rights going back over one hundred years, that have been issued by the state. These rights are based on water that will no longer be available. We need to build new storage capacity, big and small, to make up for the loss of storage capacity and to store winter water for use in summer. Potter Valley, especially, will need to make large investments in infrastructure to divert winter river flows to store water in reservoirs and to recharge groundwater. The State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and the Department of Water Resources (DWR) need to develop a streamlined process so water right holders can modify their water rights to adapt to the new conditions. Summertime diversions will be curtailed more often as Russian River summer flows won’t be supported by diverted Eel River water. Diverting and storing winter flows will become much more critical. Our community needs financial support and regulatory relief to allow us to adapt by increasing storage capacity.

Just as important as submitting a comment to PG&E, if not more so, is contacting our elected state and federal representatives. In response to PG&E’s draft plan, Jared Huffman had this to say on his website:

“PG&E’s draft surrender application is a major step forward to achieving the Two-Basin Solution I’ve advocated for years. The plan includes full and expedited removal of two dams that harm salmon on the Eel River while allowing for a modern fish-friendly diversion to provide water to Mendocino, Sonoma, and Marin counties. I’ll be working to ensure that both elements are completed in a way that best protects communities, tribes, and natural resources in the Eel and Russian river watersheds,” said Rep. Huffman.

Huffman has verbally committed to protecting communities, but hasn’t materially demonstrated that commitment by securing money for water storage. Our communities need support and assistance to adapt to the proposed changes which include new storage capacity to compensate for the losses of Scott and Cape Horn Dams . I strongly urge you to contact our representatives, especially Huffman, regarding the situation. Feel free to use my letter as a template.

This is my letter that is being sent to Jared Huffman, Mike Thompson, Mike McGuire, and Jim Wood.

Here is their contact info or you can go online to their websites and submit a comment.

Congressman Jared Huffman
Ukiah District Office
200 South School Street
Ukiah, CA 95482
Phone: (707) 671-7449

Congressman Mike Thompson
Santa Rosa District Office
2300 County Center Dr.
Suite A100
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Phone: (707) 542-7182

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California Senator Mike McGuire
Ukiah Office
200 South School Street, Suite K
Ukiah, CA 95482
Phone: 707-468-8914

California Assembly Member Jim Wood
Ukiah Valley Conference Center
200 S. School St. Suite D
Ukiah, CA 95482
Phone: (707) 463-5770

Dear (elected official),

My name is Adam Gaska, a Redwood Valley, Mendocino County farmer. I am involved in local and regional water policy by sitting on the board of Redwood Valley County Water District, representing Ag on the Ukiah Valley Groundwater Sustainability Agency, and being a member of the Russian River Water Forum. I am greatly concerned for our future with the loss of Scott and Cape Horn Dam. I understand fisheries on the Eel and Russian Rivers are in peril, but I don’t think removing the dams is necessary for the rivers’ recovery, nor will their removal insure their recovery.  I am deeply disappointed that there hasn’t been State and Federal support to assume control of Scott and Cape Horn Dams to make the necessary modifications to improve fish passage and ensure the dams longevity resulting in wins for both the Eel and Russian River watersheds and the communities that depend on them. 

In light of the current situation with decommissioning being almost certain, I am reaching out on behalf of my community, requesting financial support and regulatory relief for Mendocino County. To adapt to a future without Scott and Cape Horn dams, we need support to build new storage capacity including the raising of Coyote Dam. How Russian River water rights are managed will need to change, as water availability will decrease. Regulatory agencies such as the SWRCB and DWR must develop a streamlined and flexible framework to allow for those changes to happen, allowing our communities to adapt to a future with less available water and an increased dependence on water storage. Water right holders need the ability to modify their water rights in order to store more diverted winter time flows. These changes need to be processed quickly and efficiently.

Mendocino County, being an economically disadvantaged community, will struggle to adapt to a future without the dams. We need financial assistance to contribute to the new infrastructure of the Eel-Russian transfer facility, develop new storage capacity in order to receive and benefit from an equitable share of the water. Russian River water rights holders and users will increasingly rely on stored water, as summer diversions will be curtailed more frequently. Funding a cost-share program to increase on-farm water storage as was done in 2008 through the NRCS would be timely and helpful.  Funding to raise Coyote Dam to increase storage capacity of Lake Mendocino must become a priority. Potter Valley Irrigation District needs infrastructure improvements to its water delivery system to divert winter flows to storage in an as of yet unbuilt reservoir (or two), and to recharge groundwater.  

Without your help to secure funding and regulatory relief, your constituents in Mendocino County will suffer, as will others dependent on the Russian River.

I appreciate your attention to this matter,

Adam Gaska

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  1. Adam, here is some advice. Your article is titled “Mendocino County faces economic challenge without Potter Valley Project.” The reality is that “Potter Valley faces economic challenge without Potter Valley Project.” Sorry but that’s the truth. Ukiah’s not too concerned? Why? Because they’ve smartly been investing in all kinds of projects that improve water supply and water supply that they control. Same with Sonoma. The residents of Potter Valley need to to set up a special district. They need to charge for water use. This is necessary before you go around asking other entities like the State for money. Is Potter Valley disadvantaged? I don’t know, but if a district isn’t set up soon, it will be.

    • The loss of the dams will effect all of Mendocino, Sonoma and even Marin County’s as Marin buys water from Sonoma Water. Marin Municipal Water District gets 25% of its water from Sonoma Water and wants more. They are currently looking at a $100 million pipeline to get more water from East Bay Municipal Utility District.

      Potter Valley has a special district, Potter Valley Irrigation District which charges for water. They are the only ones that have paid anything for the water, albeit not very much. PVID is also a part of IWPC, a JPA that includes the City of Ukiah, County of Mendocino, Redwood Valley County Water District and Russian River Flood Control. Ukiah is concerned enough to be an active participant in the future of the project, Sonoma Water as well. PVID has already secured grants to look at the best places in Potter Valley to do groundwater recharge and to do preliminary studies on two reservoirs. While Potter Valley will be hit the hardest, the effects will trickle down. Property values in Potter Valley are already declining as is seen in current property prices which eventually will effect county property tax revenues. With an increase in the cost of water, some crops will become unprofitable. The grape market is in a glut/slump that likely will persist for years. There is no easy high value, low water use crop that can only be grown in Mendocino County. Less gross revenues will equate to less sales tax revenue which will especially hurt the City of Ukiah which has already been hurt by the decline of cannabis.

      We are lucky last year was a wet one. Flow levels have been good enough that there wasn’t curtailments. PG&E has already drastically cut down the diversion rate. If we hit a dry year, curtailments will kick in early without the water that historically was coming from the PVP during the summer. Any and all right holders along the Russian from Lake Mendocino to Alexander Valley will be cut off from direct diversions. Most do not have enough storage to see them through summer. Municipalities will kick in conservation measures and rely heavily on groundwater. Sonoma Water is moving to annex Healdsburg into the Lake Sonoma district and give them a water contract.

      Even if we magically pull off putting in new infrastructure to divert water in the winter from the Eel to the Russian, we need more storage capacity. What’s the point of diverting water if the Army Corp of Engineers dumps it out of Lake Mendocino for flood control?

      It looks as though most of Mendocino County is economically disadvantaged, including Potter Valley.

      • Is there a way that we could tax the downstream needs of this water to invest in a better system upstream? IE can we receiving money from Marin/ Sonoma who want the water to bolster the better storage/ recharge efforts?

        To me the elephant in the room is the wine growing from Redwood Valley–>alexander valley should be regulated as grapes are not only not holding value but also not selling. A can of worms..

        • One of the problems is that the water PG&E was using to generate power was “abandoned” so it was able for free to anyone with an appropriative water right which the state gave out a lot of water rights based on the historic volume of water. PG&E never wanted to charge as they are not in the water business. So now these users need to get organized and form some kind of JPA or district to charge for water.

          If it is a pay to play situation, then it goes to housing developers
          and ag/open space loses out.

      • Could we consider reducing grape and cannabis harvests? Placing water caps on Ag. Both Crops currently aren’t doing well economically and cannabis may be already on its way out of Mendo. Perhaps Mendo could take a different direction on its economy. Maybe something that doesn’t depend on Ag for starters. Expand the tourism potential (Tourism Improvement District?), enable/expand the local colleges for skilled labor. Perhaps have an economic advisor to bring business into Mendo for more revenue streams. Reduce and/or simplify development in the county via more objective building parameters for developers. Perhaps discuss the idea of bringing the Smart Rail into Mendo or set a process when funding is available to expand the train into Ukiah. Perhaps utilize the rail trail system for easier access between the Bay and North Bay area.

        • Water rights are held by individuals and in some cases, government agencies. In Mendocino County, most water rights are held by individuals. They are free tomuse the water as they wish.

          As for the rail, the Great Redwood Trail is hoping to turn it into a walking/biking path and remove the option for rail service to return north of Cloverdale.

          • That’s true. Water rights is more a state issue than a local issue. I’m not sure how much jurisdiction you (as a BoS member ) would have over the term of Williamson act parcels. This could be a work around to the water issue.

            I’m not sure why a community wants to rail bank the tracks. It would add tourism value (more revenue streams) to have a smart rail in the county. It would make transit for working class people easier and access to affordable housing easier plus it would reduce so much CO2 by reducing cars traveling back and forth on the 101. There are ways to increase revenue in Mendo but if the community wants to stay in the past then so will its financial tax base. The dam is just one more thing this community can’t afford to maintain and will have lasting consequences.

            • Pragmatic and Adam are touching it….
              These individual water rights holders are largely grape farmers.
              “The are free to use the water as they wish.”
              I know farmers are just people, but I’m pretty sure my Hopland family uses more water to grow grapes for our livelihood than all the marijuana in Hopland combined. We’ve been building pond after pond after pond. And we’re not exactly providing jobs for the masses in our county in exchange for the river, we use migrant labor. And wine isn’t nourishing the locals. Sure we pay taxes etc etc.. I’m not complaining but grapes are the elephant in the room. We like to blame the city folk stealing our water down in Marin too but what are they using it for in Marin? Drinking and bathing? Or Industry and Ag?
              I feel incredibly privileged and guilty, but family pressure to run and a generational ranch is real.
              My pipe dream is for us grape growers to convert to growing acorns.

              Can someone ease my Hollywood movie induced fears about a bigger dam looming over Ukiah for lake Mendo? I’m picturing a tidal wave…

              • Many Williamson Act parcels are likely being under taxed for their market crops values, due to inadequate processes in the Assessor’s office, and benefit from extra low property taxes due to legacy privileges and the clout they hold in the county. Contrary to this community’s infatuations with providing for locals first PR; the gov’t and many of the landowners are doing no such thing. They protect the status quo and that’s it. There’s lots of struggling people here and more so than in other communities. It’s clear this community would benefit from diversifying its economy. Now with a new noteworthy scarcity in water, the community should maybe use its resources differently. The County is in a financial hole and PG&E is no longer subsidizing the dam maintenance to landowners’ access to cheap water. These are very clear signals that the community dynamic is unsustainable.

              • I help grow grapes and I don’t enjoy wine much. I do like farming. For me, I support getting Mendocino’s fair share of the water and allocating a portion of that for agriculture. I don’t support a specific crop or a specific ranch so much as I am advocating for agriculture in general. If you look at our county’s history, there is a laundry list of crops people grew. We, hopefully, will add to that list in the future but we need water to make that happen. I also don’t want us to miss the boat again like we did by not funding Lake Mendocino. I also wish planting oak woodland and native grassland equated to a paycheck. I planted the back acre on our two acre lot off Bel Abres to oaks and native grass. We have about 100 acres on 2 acres.


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MendoFever Staff
MendoFever Staff
Editor's Note: Whenever an article's byline reads "MendoFever Staff", the contents of that article were not composed by any of our reporters. Types of writing that will be attributed to "MendoFever Staff" include press releases, letters to the editor, op-eds, obituaries— essentially writing that is not produced by a reporter.

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