Thursday August 4, 2022

The Mendocino Voice

As Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) moves toward decommissioning the Potter Valley Project, a coalition of environmental groups is readying materials to sue the power company over operations the groups say harm the Eel River’s salmon and trout populations and violate the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The Potter Valley Project is a hydroelectric power plant — more than a century old — designed to generate power and divert water flows from the Eel River to the Russian River. The plant utilizes two dams: Cape Horn Dam at the Van Arsdale Reservoir and Scott Dam at Lake Pillsbury. The future of these dams remains murky and controversial, as government agencies, nonprofits, tribal nations, agricultural stakeholders, and other California citizens all have a vested interest in water rights and land stewardship in the two watersheds. For example, some Lake County residents oppose removing Scott Dam because of Lake Pillsbury’s community significance and value as a reservoir. 

But those on all sides agree that the Eel River is a critical habitat for California’s populations of coho salmon, Chinook salmon, and steelhead trout, making the fate of these species a significant factor that hangs in the balance when it comes to decommissioning the Potter Valley Project. One species, the Central California Coast coho salmon, is at serious risk of extinction. Critics of the utility company argue that factors caused by the presence of the dams harm these endangered populations, but PG&E has not yet said whether decommissioning would involve removing the dams. 

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