Update on the Benbow Dam Removal Project

On August 1, what NOAA called the second-largest dam removal in California began. Benbow Dam which formed a seasonal 123 acre lake on the Eel River from approximately 1928 until 2007 is being torn down.

The dam has not been functional for 9 years but now construction workers are removing the concrete footings and restoring the natural habitat.

NOAA says the dam is “a safety hazard” that “limits threatened coho and Chinook salmon, and steelhead, from reaching their upstream habitat.”

Drew Carrico, a local pilot took these photos of the dam removal today (Saturday, August 27.)

Benbow dam removal by Drew Carrico

Benbow dam removal by Drew Carrico

Benbow dam removal by Drew Carrico

According to NOAA,

Before the dam was built, roughly 20,000 Chinook and as many as 17,000 coho salmon swam past the dam site. In 2010, there were only 1,000 Chinook and 500 coho in this part of the Eel River.

The dam is also causing safety issues. The banks of the lake have eroded due to the unnatural wave action caused by the lake and sediment accumulation

upstream of the dam. The lake is surrounded by redwood trees, but erosion is causing the banks to be unstable, and they are toppling over. The dam itself is in poor repair and could become a liability.

UPDATE 10:11 p.m.: Images of Benbow Dam from the winter of 2015 by Drew Carrico
winter 2015 Benbow dam 14182617_541659376020898_1136866889_n

UPDATE Sunday: Photos of the last year that Benbow Lake was filled by Kim Sallaway. (Like his Facebook page to see more photos from the area.)
Benbow Lake Kim sallaway

unnamed (3)

Benbow Lake Kim sallaway

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66 comments

  • Oh boy, where to I begin. What about Lake Pillsbury? You want to talk about damage to salmonid species! Fish ladders, pike minnow, logging, over fishing, ’55 and ’64 floods, drought, refusal to dredge out the gravel to open the stream channels, lack of riparian shelter. This dam is nowhere the cause of the destruction of the fish. What a waste of money.

    • You failed to mention the tributaries drying up from over use of water … that is the largest harm being done to salmon right now

    • The Potter Valley Project only impacts a small percentage of the Eel River basin and has no impact on the North, Middle, South Forks, the Van Duzen, Outlet Creek and the many other tributaries, but it sure makes a great target for people’s ire and a distraction from the whole basin bigger picture.

      The real impact on the Eel is a slow death from a thousand cuts in the rest of the basin: poorly timed (meaning summertime) water diversions in nearly every stream watershed, past logging watershed damage, poor road maintenance, the human population expansion and activities in the basin (think Salmon(less) Creek), drought cycles, global warming causing changing weather patterns, and other factors we tend to ignore. Each one bleeds some of the life out of the river.

    • Henchman Of Justice

      The dam has never been cited as “the cause”.

      Humans are the likely cause though.

    • Also, there is the issue of invasive species like the pikeminnow taking over in a predatory fashion.

  • Not dredging the rivers, the mouth of the van duzen really needs it, is a huge problem, so many fish die at the mouth.

    • the misadventures of bunjee

      Yup. Especially on the days that it doesn’t make it to the Eel at all.

    • Henchman Of Justice

      What amount of dredging was needed before human caused impacts?

      Surely, sediment existed before logging.

      Lets start with these actions first:

      1) remove water flow restrictions no matter where

      2) go after illegal water diversions that lower water charging efforts upstream.

      3) monitor summertime water activities like reggae on the rivers, redwood runs, etc… for environmentally damaging uses to the water supply and quality and fish (human body cosmetics, pee and poo, animals pee and poo, human food wastes, etc…)

      4) research, monitor, inspect, repair, upgrade, etc…. homeowner and business onsite sewage disposal systems (leachfields, etc.)

      4 simple areas of attention to detail, but it is all about enforcing the existing laws on the books, not making up new laws as a result of not performing the existing laws.

      Enough water runs in the winter, so open up the waterways and let mama nature flush, flush, flush away. This is regenerative cleaning.

    • When I first moved to the county in 1982, I lived up the Van Duzen River near Yager Creek. At that time, Yager Creek was beautiful and full of big boulders and colorful rocks. That was all mined and carried off. At that time there were lots of big rocks down by the confluence of the Van Duzen and the Eel River. And now they are all gone.

  • Well…. At least it looks worse for the moment. Hurry the fuck up so winter can work it out.

  • I learned how to water ski on benbow lake it was not the dam that reduced the fish pop over fishing an logging did it in when the freeway went in thay filed in the lake so moter boats could not use it

    • the misadventures of bunjee

      So did a lot of people. Fish got over that dam just fine, even though it obviously wasn’t 21st century technology or environmental planning. But that’s the project they want to be the saving grace and now? People just drive by with memories and don’t stop at all to visit much.

    • i wonder what the river was like before the dams and the freeway.

    • I’ve seen some beautiful photos of the lake Very historic and important to many families and a few legitimate businesses but that wouldn’t be the hypocrites concern .They’re too busy pulling out every last gallon of water they can out of every tributary they can .

  • BFD. All the water just runs into the Pacific anyway.

  • Worst project ever. State park and Fish and Game are way out of line. They should of fixed it not tear it down. no fish in the summer time anyway. That lake was good for southern Humboldt. The state park and Fish and Game are not

    • Henchman Of Justice

      Show a poll then, what was the support levels?

    • The dam and Benbow Lake were very harmful to out-migrating juvenile salmon. As an HSU grad student I ran out-migrant traps during the summers of 1993 and 1994. Back then the dam was in and the lake was full for Memorial Day weekend. Throughout late May and most of June we trapped 100’s of juvenile Chinook daily in the trap above the lake. And the trap below the dam? Very few juvenile salmon, like 10 or less daily. The lake and pool right below the dam’s ladder were full of huge pike minnow. We also documented how the lake heated the South Fork Eel and affected the natural diurnal fluctuation of water temperatures.

      • Henchman Of Justice

        August 28, 2016 9:00 pm

        Maybe, on a biological level, humans/scientists/biologists/etc.. are incorrect to believe cool water runs in the heat of summer are beneficial.

        Maybe fish for thousands of years are making their runs based upon water temps conforming to natural seasonal waterflows……and mankind dams the rivers, messes with water flows for big ag profits and taxes created, which messes with a fish’s reproductive psychee…….not to mention dams restrict flows, cause a situation for the toxic blooming algae that kills fish when natural flows are obstructed.

      • Before the dam went in every year the river flow was very good and the water temp nice and cold. Days after the dam was put in the flow downstream all but stopped and algae was no longer carried along but started accumulating on the banks. The water temperature warmed and algae grew and bloomed. I was not a fan of the dam as my favorite swimming hole dropped several feet in a matter of days after the darn dam was put in.

  • Bunch of armchair biologists. Idiots.

    • Well said.
      Seasonal dam at Chezem’s on Redwood Creek was shut down several years ago for the same reason. I used to watch helicopters dipping buckets for fire fighting, it came in handy but NO MORE. Fish first, fighting wild fires second.

      • The seasonal dam at Cookson Ranch on Redwood Creek used to backwater the creek above the Stover Creek tributary delta, providing deep, cold water rearing-habitat for juvenile fish. Made for a great swimming hole too.

      • Henchman Of Justice

        Well, if arsonists were not going around starting fires, then the agent red chemical fire retardent would not be sprayed is such high volumes.

        Then it rains, and the fish eventually breathe, eat and filter red death………

  • Ten or so years ago Humboldt residents were told that repairing the Benbow Dam would be so expensive it couldn’t be done. It was “patched” and put in once or twice more then sat dormant for 9 years. Now, nine years later there is enough money to take on “the second-largest dam removal” in California. I certainly hope we get an accounting on the dam removal costs. Could it have been repaired for less and brought back the recreational attraction that was enjoyed by so many?

    • Gary
      The dam removal has nothing to do with science, in this particular case I think that it’s another of many, many gotchas. The fish runs of yore were mostly supported by a major fish hatchery at Cedar Creek in Leggett. The dam was a big source of cool water pooling that suported young steelhead trout. I know that because when I was a kid back in the 50′ and 60’s I would fish there after Labor Day when they let the dam out. I would catch many 6 to 8 inch trout very easily. Darrel Brown could also tell you that.
      The deep pools that supported young eels in silty bottoms are starting to deepen again. Which is great news for fish and especially eels.
      This is usually where the newcomers, who are not listening anyway, interrupt you to say “they’re not eels, they’re really lamphreys”. But, you get my drift.

      What difference does it make that I am 5th generation native of the South Fork of the Eel, and spent most of my young life swiming, fising and exploring the river, and saw all of the chages that the river has gone through? I’m just an “armchair biologist”. So nobody ever asks me. I might screw up their empire.

      • Don’t stop teaching us, Ernie. af

      • Henchman Of Justice

        Go Ernie,

        educate and teach your personal experience, cuz youngins are too overly agreeable to believe what they are taught by the “paid institutionalists” who are always covering up history with their shillish, minionated opining redirected top down directives.

      • Shifting baseline syndrome.

      • Yes, we all love your stories, Ernie. Hello to Janice!

      • Ernie,

        I think what Gary means is the money aspect of it, we can’t even get roads paved correctly how are we going to afford the second biggest dam removle in CA? But atleast we are spending money on the fish that are a crucial piece of our environment. Yet I feel like most everybody left out the fact that logging back in the day did a hell of a lot more damage than the benbow dam did. I too am a 5th gen local so my family contributed to logging, but I’m in my 20s so all I’ve gotten is stories from my dad and grandma saying how great it was back then and how many Deere and fish there was, (very bitter sweet) and the fact that they were told that it would never run out is just crazy! Same with all the trees, they were told never could they put a dent in the old growth population. It’s people like you Ern dog, that they need while restoring these crucial habitats, to tell them how it used to be, not these people from the city who are only here cause it’s their job and they need to make a buck.

        Also wondering why the dam was fine since 1928, having plenty of fish go up for 40 years than after logging a drastic decline in fish counts started. Am I corrext about that? Or did they notice fish levels lowering before logging companies moved in?

        • Watson, I hear you. But you also have to consider the impact that the ’55 and the ’64 floods had. Not to mention the fact that the “scientists” cleaned all of the woody debris that was left after the flood. They felt that it was unnatural so they removed them all causing a riffle all the way to the ocean. As a kid I swam and fished in those log jams, they were also PRIME fish habitat. Fish could hide from otters and birds that hunted them. I caught most of my trout in those log jams with a willow stick and grass hopper bait. Like I’ve said a thousands times, it doesn’t make any difference what you’ve seen, scientists rule.

          • Good to see you are still kickin’, Ernie. Yes, the old days were great, and Benbow Lake was a part of it all. Our choice now is to move on and do what we can from where we’re at. Time marches on. We can ride the crest of the wave of history and influence it with what little wisdom we have as “oldtimers” or look in the rear view mirror and risk irrelevency. I know you know that. I believe you when you claim 5th generation South Fork Eel, but mathematically that means that if the 1st generation arrived in 1860 (Mendo County south of Rattlesnake summit is not in S. Fork Eel drainage), that averages 14 years every generation (average age of mother at birth of first born 14 years). My family will never catch up with you at that rate. Slow down and give us a chance! Was that really Gary Abena that drowned at the south spit? If so, TV news mispronounced his name. Tom Woods gone too (also 5th generation?) Take care of yourself, we’re both a “dying breed”. I plan on sticking around a little longer.
            affectionately, JB

            • Remember that folks who came here in the 1800’s were usually adults. I’m a 5th generation too. William Cole came in the late 1850’s. His daughter was my great grandma. My grandma was 3rd generation, my dad fourth and I’m fifth. My kids are 6th generation here. And none of us were born to especially young parents.

              • Thank you for your amazing news site Kym! Also you have steel nerves while broadcasting the crazy stuff that happens around here! Anyways thanks for the hard work and dedication to this beautiful place we call home. Keep up the great work!

              • Yes, Kim, but Ernie and I are about your Dad’s age. If he was fourth generation, then I hold to my remarks to Ernie. Don’t we wish we were your age.

            • JB, you are right, the tributary than runs through Laytonville is the Ten Mile Creek, but it drains into the South Fork, however the South Fork runs through Branscomb.

              My earliest ancestors were the Lamberts and the Poes who arrived though Oregon in 1857. I counted them as a “generation” but they were not born here. I guess I should have said 5th generation to have lived here.

              Yes, it was Gary Abena who drowned at the South Spit boating accident. He was just in our store, it makes it seem impossible to loose someone that easily.

              Yes, I’m still riding the crest, with irelevence lapping at my ankles. A wave is a good example of life in Garberville. Just like a wave, history goes where it wants to, and the newcomers could care less about where the wave came from, or where it is going.

              • Ernie, you’re right on the geography lesson, and probably right on the generational issue. I should have known better than to question you. I shall forever remain a generation behind.

          • Very true. That is a huge factor, One of many to make up the decline of a species. Thanks for the education Ernie you da man! And for the people who have had family here for all these years, they do not need to have your family timeline explained we know. I hate getting questioned about that, but people feel insecure about the whole local thing. Which seems like it was only started by people who haven’t been here for generations. Funny tho I got hassled by some person at the boat ramp in the cove, still has no idea my grandparents started the whitethorn store and my great grandpa owned all of whale gulch at one time. Not only that being related to Jack Piercy. I never pull that card because frankly most people couldn’t care less. Which makes sense looking at it locally, how could I be a local if some random guy doesn’t recognize me right off the bat lol. We as a community need to get off our local high horses and try not be as rude to “non locals” for absolutely no reason (besides the fact they look like Martians) lol. Trust me I understand it’s easy, but I would be amazed if that happened for a whole year.

            World Peace Y’all!

      • Good remarks Ernie. I started fishing the Eel back in the early 60’s. The middle of August, right around County Fair time, the river was alive with half pounder steelhead. We would go to the fair and fish afterward. 12th Street hole in Fortuna was a favorite. Now, some years the water doesn’t even make it to 12th Street.

        The winter steelhead, starting about mid November, was fantastic, and lasted until about March. The limit back then was 3 fish/day. It was that way for many years. Then drift boats showed up from Oregon. Soon everybody had a drift boat. You could float every foot of the Eel from Redway down to the mouth. The limit was still 3 fish/day and they killed thousands a year. I know one guide who took 270 steelhead one winter. I wrote a few letters to Fish and Game warning what was happening, but it fell of deaf ears.

        Soon the catch rate fell off and they were forced to look at the issue, but it was too late. It went from 3 fish/day to “no take” in one year. It has never recovered. Pike Minnow, and all the other factors are making sure that we probably will never see those days in my life time.

        Taking the dam out at Benbow is like trying to bail out a sinking ocean liner with a 5 gallon bucket, and about as relevant.

        • Among other things that have reduced the fish runs is the return of the sea lions the eat fish by the thousands, and the offshore factory fishing ships. Someday we will figure out that there is just too many people.

      • Benbow Lake was shallow, it heated up in the summer, it was not a source of cool water. We collected hourly temperature data for several years. The dam also disrupted fish migration, both upstream and downstream. As I commented earlier, the dam and lake were pike minnow heaven and a death trap for juvenile salmon and steelhead. I’m a field biologist, but do occasionally enjoy arm chairs.

        • RT, where did you take your temperature measurements? When I would dive to the bottom it felt like ice water and fish were everwhere. It makes sense that the water going over the fish ladder, that was scimmed of the top, would be warmer.

          Granted the floods changed everything. Not to mention the pike minnow.

  • Looks like a quary close up. all that equipment and ponds. Plastic bags floating in stagnant water. And silt barriers, for what? In the bed.

  • Benbow is a very small lake. California is a very large state. So if this represents “the second-largest dam removal in California” then the whole idea of dam-removal progress is actually pretty pathetic and minimal.

  • My family waterside on that lake when I was a boy back in the sixty s

  • More water for all the pot-farmers? Pot farmers that use pesticides is what is killing off the fish population, we as humans are next on the list for this pollution in the water!!!

  • I sure do miss the days of swimming, water skiing, canoeing and swimming in the lake.

  • Missing the Lake

    BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

  • If they would have taken proper care and took the time to take care of it.we spent lots of summers there swimming and playing,picnic’s,biking,golfing.We here on the north coast are easily forgotten.they just gave up on us.we don’t count here (it seems)fishing is all but gone,logging is over our way of life here has vanished!sure miss the good Ole days!!

  • The only good dam is a beaver dam!

  • No wonder my swimming hole was murky all summer. Nice pics uncle Dewy :<)

  • The State and Feds can remove all the dam dams on the Eel and still not address the culprit killing the Kings and Cohos-squaw fish! The fish and game introduced them into Lake Pillsbury/Stow Lake 20+ years ago and the winter overflows carries them to the Eel waterways. Taking out the dam is a political posturing by pathetic epa/enviro idiots. This state is overflowing with liberals saving the world with their laptops and powerpoint presentations. The Eel is on it’s last dying breathes and the dam removeal is going to save the day??? wtf!

  • That lake used to be packed with families swimming,bbqing,and playing on the beach every day of the summer.There were plenty of Salmon and steelhead back then that had no problem with the dam.Logging and over commercial fishing in the ocean have lead to the decline in fish.
    The dam not being put in took away from youth and familly activities in this area and has surely hurt businesses like the benbow inn.Almost everyone that grew up here spent many summer days there having fun,those days are long gone now

  • Heather Kornberg

    This past June I did a river float from Benbow to Tooby Park with a bunch of “tweeters”. When we got to the old dam I spent a lot of time talking about how much fun Benbow Laje used to be in the summer- paddle boats, BBQ’s community swim lessons, Summer Rec Camp for all the kids etc. I am historically very “anti dam” but in June I caught myself saying to the kids “maybe we can try to get this thing working again since our community is growing so fast and need thing for people to do around here that are community-building and family oriented” ……. Guess we have to find something else

  • What a waste I was hoping it would be repaired/maintained I miss the lake in the summer

  • Does anybody remember the benbow lake triathlon ?

  • I too miss the lake. I kinda wish the wouldn’t have let those alders grow up along the shore. It just looks so parched along there what with not watering the grass. I hardly see much day use anymore.

  • Some time back I watched as they were trying to build up and contain the concrete contaminated water on the left shore of these pics where they had started demolition…presumably that is what is currently held in the downstream containment pond. At that time the river was running down the right side of the riverbed, they have rerouted it around the remaining concrete to be blasted. I have sat on that side and had an otter family swim up the ‘ladder’ beside me… so many good memories of swimming there. They have graded and pushed that lakebed/streambed around like sand, I wish they could create a deep hole for swimmers while they are in there pushing gravel around.
    I did see a lot of rebar sticking out of the lowest level of the downside of the dam on the park side, and I know the infrastructure had become a hazard and probably liability played a factor. Never could understand how a cool reservoir wasn’t a benefit to downstream flows during the heat of the summer.
    Another Sohum icon gone…. wish I had known it when you could waterski from Fish Creek to the Dam.

    • Henchman Of Justice

      Maybe, on a biological level, humans/scientists/biologists/etc.. are incorrect to believe cool water runs in the heat od summer are beneficial.

      Maybe fish for thousands of years are making their runs based upon water temps conforming to natural seasonal waterflows……and mankind dams the rivers, messes with water flows for big ag profits and taxes created, which messes with a fish’s reproductive psychee…….not to mention dams restrict flows, cause a situation for the toxic blooming algae that kills fish when natural flows are obstructed.

      • Natural flows are obstructed from pot growers as well .It’s the accumulated affects and not the Fantasy some device .

  • Dyerville Loop is Not Alderpoint

    I met a fine old indian fellow up around Zenia many years back.We out deer hunting,up near Bear Wallow, Last name Stillwell.. Said he was about 300th or so generation out of Covelo. He wasnt braggin ,only stating a fact.Hope you got alot of healthy grandkids Ernie, because they got alot of work

    ahead of them.I respect you Ernie, but im afraid that ole Stillwells got you beat, hands down. .And believe it or not you and ole Stillwell are relations about a jillion generations back .You have a common grandma, they call her Lucy , but that really wasn’t her name. She was my grandma too. Were all relations. .Dont let the bastards get you down.Ive seen the eels in the river also, they seem to be making a comeback. They attack fish. Maybe fish and game and Epic can file a lawsuit and stop them…

  • Dyerville Loop is Not Alderpoint

    Dear crime stopper, Scott Downey of Fish and Game declared the Eel river “DEAD” about thirty years ago. “Dont waste your time”, he said.Well im here to tell you it aint dead yet, but its bleeding sand and dirt bad.Mother nature bats last.Stay tuned for the last act.I think its more than the fish that will sing the swan song.

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