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Close to Home: Potter Valley Project as we know it is dead

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

PG&E is getting rid of its obsolete, dangerous and expensive Potter Valley Project on the Eel River. PG&E has have declined to re-license the project with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and no other qualified entity is interested. Time is up: the license will be surrendered, and the project will be decommissioned.

David Keller
David Keller

PG&E recognizes that its century-old hydropower project loses money on the electricity generated (now shut down for the next few years due to major equipment failure), and was poorly designed and constructed too close to an earthquake fault and large, active landslide. It kills and harms protected salmon and steelhead. Cape Horn Dam’s fish ladder is poorly designed, easily clogged with sediment and debris, and prevents the fish from volitional migration passage up and downstream. Scott Dam (forming Lake Pillsbury) is too high for a fish ladder, blocking access to more than 280 miles of superb cold-water salmonid habitat, according to recent National Marine Fisheries Service study, and does not meet current standards for safety and stability. In short, the Potter Valley Project is a major liability. That’s not a “radical” evaluation, but reality.

Instead of recognizing that these changes will happen, some people are bitter, disingenuous and increasingly obstructionist. They built wealth using the cheap imported water from Potter Valley Project diversions. They’ve smeared our congressman, Jared Huffman, who has worked hard to guide and help craft a solution for the divergent interests of Eel River fisheries recovery and Russian River water supply reliability.

By hanging on to a delusion that the Potter Valley Project should not change, they are ramping up conflicts and confusion for Russian River stakeholders for decades to come. It’s time to move on with the well-reasoned and modeled proposals for dam removal and run-of-the-river diversions from the Eel to Lake Mendocino and other storage.

Beneficiaries of water taken from the Eel River can recognize the inevitable changes coming and create an agency in Sonoma and Mendocino counties that can modernize, fund, own, operate and maintain the useful components of the 115-year-old Potter Valley Project. PG&E will undam the Eel, and we can honor the necessity of volitional salmonid passage and full recovery of the once magnificent Eel River, while providing long-term seasonal augmentation to water naturally flowing in the Russian River.

David Keller is Bay Area director for Friends of the Eel River. He lives in Petaluma.

You can send letters to the editor to letters@pressdemocrat.com.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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