Humboldt County Residents’ Input Not Actively Sought as Potter Valley Project Dam Study Opens for Comments

Aerial photo of Scott Dam and Lake Pillsbury [Photo by Rob Badger; used with permission from Friends of the Eel River]

In April of this year, PG&E began the process of relicensing the Potter Valley Project. The Potter Valley Project (PVP) diverts water from the mainstem of the Eel River into the Russian River watershed. It produces up to 9mw of electricity at the hydro-power station in Potter Valley, California then it fills Lake Mendocino along the highway 20 near Ukiah. The water that is diverted would have flowed through Humboldt County if the Potter Valley Project didn’t exist. However, the agency in charge did not reach out actively to Humboldt County residents about the relicensing process. All meetings and even public notices were set in counties south of here. 

To operate the diversion, PG&E maintains two dams in the upper reach of the Eel River, about a dozen miles directly east of Willits in Mendocino and Lake Counties. The upstream dam is the Scott Dam and it impounds Lake Pillsbury in Lake County. Lake Pillsbury holds water across the dry season releasing it for use throughout the year by both the diversion and the Eel River. Twelve river miles downstream is the Cape Horn Dam which impounds Van Arsdale reservoir in Mendocino County. Van Arsdale holds a small pool of water sufficient for supplying the diversion via a set of tunnels through two consecutive mountain ridges. After which, the Eel River water falls 450 feet in two 48 inch diameter “penstocks” to the hydro-power station in the back corner of Potter Valley and becomes the headwaters of the East Branch of the Russian River.

Every fifty years the utility must renew their license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The original license was issued in 1922 and expired in 1972. So, PG&E is beginning their renewal application process for the current license which expires in April of 2022

What Potter Valley Project Provides

The nine 9MW of power produced is barely mentioned in the process of renewing the license. In fact, most of the time, the power house is operating at less than half that output since 2007, according to PG&E’s Pre-Application Document to FERC.

The main issue on the Eel River side is the pristine, cold water spawning grounds above Lake Pillsbury that have been cut off from salmonid species for nearly 100years.

And on the Russian River side, the primary issue is the 70,000 acre feet of water transferred annually that fuels the agricultural economy for Potter Valley and Russian River farmers and provides the environmental offsets for the SCWA which withdraws water from the Russian River for municipal water supply for half a million people in Sonoma and Marin Counties. The unmentioned regulatory issue is that PG&E ratepayers are subsidizing the environmental analysis and mitigation of this water transfer. The utility is not paid for the majority of the water its transfer provides.

Humboldt County Input Not Actively Sought

The power project is in Mendocino County, the major reservoir is in Lake County and the Eel River runs extensively through Humboldt County. No scoping sessions or outreach to the public at large is being conducted in the Eel River watershed. When Congressman Jared Huffman wrote to FERC to inquire about having public meetings in Eel River communities, FERC responded in a letter dated August 29, 2017 that it wouldn’t be necessary because Eel River constituents have provided input either in writing or through the meetings in Ukiah, CA.

The letter signed by FERC Chairman Neil Chatterjee says, “We understand that there are stakeholders with concerns that reside several hours from the immediate project location. The scoping meetings were publicly noticed concurrently with SD1 on June 1, 2017, and published in the Lake County Record Bee, the Lake County News and the Mendocino Beacon. The notice and SD1 were also sent to over 100 entities on the Commission’s mailing list for the project and about 300 entities on PG&Es distribution list for the project. As a result of these efforts to afford public notice of the relicensing process and encourage participation, we have received hundreds of comments from individuals in both the Eel (including the lower Eel) and Russian River Basins, and beyond.”

Integrated Licensing Process

FERC’s renewal process is called an Integrated Licensing Process (ILP), meaning it now integrates the environmental analysis needed for NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) into the licensing process.

The ILP process is as fast-paced as it is bureaucratic and challenging to understand.

PG&E filed a Notice of Intent (NOI) and a Pre-Application Document (PAD) in April of this year. The public had until August 14th to comment on the NOI and the PAD. In the meantime, FERC issued their first Scoping Document on June 5th. The Scoping Document (SD1) describes the environmental analysis that will be done for NEPA.

On June 27th FERC held the only two publicly noticed Scoping meetings, and those meetings were only noticed in the Congressional Federal Register. Both meetings were held on the same day in the same place, Ukiah’s Board of Supervisors’ Chambers. There was a morning session and an evening session.

From the comments on FERC’s Scoping Document One (SD1) and PG&E’s Pre-Application and Notice of Intent, PG&E developed a Proposed Study Plan which it sent out on the 18th of September.

The very next day, FERC released its revision of the scope of the environmental analysis in Scoping Document Two (SD2). SD2 was not open to public comment according to Vivian Helliwell of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA).

After submitting their proposed study plan on the 18th of September, PG&E began Technical Working Groups with regulatory agencies including NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service and California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife; local tribes including the Round Valley Indian Tribes and the Wiyot Tribe; environmental non-profit groups like Friends of the Eel and the Native Fish Society; economic sector advocates such as PCFFA and Mendocino County Farm Bureau, and other affected parties such as the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) and the Potter Valley Irrigation District (PVID).

Technical Study Sessions were held by PG&E this fall, in Ukiah, from October 18th through November 30th. The Technical Study Sessions covered 11 areas: hydrology, water temperature, water quality, geomorphology, instream flow, Lake Pillsbury fish habitat, fish passage, entrainment, fish populations, special-status amphibians, and special-status mollusks. Both the Eel and the Russian Rivers will be studied from their headwaters to their mouths. Fish passage on the Van Arsdale dam will be studied for its efficacy and Scott Dam will be studied for the possibility of introducing fish passage in some fashion. And the potential impacts to both rivers if one or both dams were decommissioned has been introduced for study as well.

You can comment on the Potter Valley Project

PG&E began distributing the revised Proposed Study Plan for public comment last week. The public has until next week on the 17th of December to submit their comments to FERC via an filing. And that deadline closes at 2 p.m. Pacific Time because FERC is located in Washington DC. The web address for filing is for comments that are shorter than 6,000 characters. You must identify your comments as regarding the Potter Valley Project (P-77-285) For longer remarks call FERC at 1-866-208-3676 for instructions on how to register for e-filing. PG&E maintains information on the re-licensing process at



  • unbridled phillistine

    California grows enough food to feed the whole world! Who cares? There is plenty! How ever the Salmon are abused, Left to wallow in shallow warm water unable to make it up to traditional spawning grounds. So Cal could use less and the Salmon could use more. Save the Salmon or worry about the ag industry? I say pull out all Dam before its too late. Opps too late…….

    • Without that water,Lake Mendocoino will dry up every summer and create a serious water shortage for both Mendocino and Sonoma counties!

      • Cannabis growers are not going be able to divert water during summer months (forbearance) under the new small irrigation use permit for cannabis cultivation. Maybe everyone else should be held to this standard too.

      • I remember a few years ago when the Santa Rosa Press Democrat was a leading proponent to remove dams from the Klammath river. There was zero concern for the farmers in the Klammath river basin. So I’m suuuuuure that the P-D will advocate for the removal of the Potter Valley dam. I’m not holding my breath.

        • amimissingsomething

          Warner Von Braun, The PD also came out with an article about 5 years ago regarding the merits of keeping both dams in operation which were probably directly tied to wine interests in the Santa Rosa Sonoma County area about the benefits of the small dams which were of no real threat to any environmental or endangered species. The article went on to say it was water meant for Santa Rosa and always had been. There was no real mention about diverting the Eel River which is the main concern I and many other have. The water was taken from thr Eel River with no regard for the fish or wildlife…just the water for growing grapes and assisting the wine industry.

        • the Klamath Dams slated for removal do not provide irrigation water. they are catch basins for power generation. All of the irrigation water comes out of impoundments upstream of the 4 dams proposed to be removed. The big loss from the Klamath Dams being removed would be for the lake front properties and the super cheap power that the farmers get for their pumps. The KBRA has provisions for continuing to provide subsidized power to those farmers. The whole argument that the farmer need the water from the klamath dams is a red herring…

      • But the Eel River is going dry!!!!!!! Hardly any fish life, pools for fish or animals. disgusting! WE NEED ENOUGH WATER FIRST! Then take water reasonably!!! I,ve seen the Manicured lawns of the rich(know some)…NEVER even slowed down when State said stop watering lawns until the drought lessens! They didn’t even blink, seen the middle class lawns…all pretty and green, perfectly mowed, sprinklers on during the hottest part of the day(water at night, less evaporation! While in Humboldt…wells are drying up along the Van Duzen, which also is low, and feeds into the Eel River! WHEN IT MAKES IT TO THE EEL, in the summer IT DOESN’T! We need some of our own water back…the SALMON DEPEND ON THIS HAPPENING!

      • Maybe Mendocino and Sonoma should have been getting their water locally instead of taking the water from others.The river flows where it does to supply that area with water,when you divert it elsewhere you dramatically impact the area it was originally intended for.Large scale diversions should not only be a federal crime but a crime against humanity and nature.Ask the native lamprey eel how the lack of water and the introduction of squaw fish has effected its native home and population.By the way, that’s how the squaw fish got here,PG&E is 100% responsible for the squaw that now reside in the eel.Few salmon left, haven’t seen a turtle in years,catfish,fresh water clams and eels are barely holding on to a thread.Its time to put the water back and let Mother Nature fix what they have done.

  • Humboldt has no input ! … “we have received hundreds of comments from individuals in both the Eel (including the lower Eel) and Russian River Basins, and beyond”…. I bet they did … Hundreds…really ?

  • No more Dams and no more redirecting.

  • And yet Fish and Game will show up at a grow site and proclaim illegal water diversion. Looks like the practice is alive and well! What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.This is where your focus should be Ed Voice. That’s if you really want to make a difference or just bitch and complain!

    • Fish and Wildlife are treating cannabis growers in a wrongful way and will be sued for farmer discrimination

      • I know of no such creature as farmer’s rights.

        • amimissingsomething

          Guest,,,,Think about Farmer’s Water rights. Farmers across the State of California are represented by several large lobbyists which talk all the time about “Farmer’s Rights” and they fight hard to defend some of the indefensible projects and proposals. California Fish and Wildlife has come out strong and issued tickets to stream diversions costing growers major dollars. In this case we are talking about one of the Five untouchable rivers in the California system which has not only been diverted but was also done with PG&E interests along with the grape industry and yet….next to zero public input when it occurred . This little project involves one of the “Wild and Scenic” rivers which was enacted by the Federal Government in the late 70’s. How easy it is for the Feds to bypass any and all rules pertaining to these “Wild and Scenic Rivers” at their own discretion when it suits their final goals.

          • It takes voters to care for its citizens.

            I believe you are referring to rights to water. As with the Klamath River. But the Department of Interior has the approval and they hold the political power to to grant water to farmers. To gain water approval well paid lobbyists walk the hallways of the Capital offering what is in essence bribes to elected representatives that trickle down the massive bureaucracy pipelines to the rivers and reservoirs. PG&E is a very rich corporation that hires lobbyists to gain approvals on the State and Federal levels. And the President has the authority to award and subtract resources as he sees fit. It is not an easy system nor a fair system to work within. Water to Potter Valley and the wine industry made substantial contributions to our former and current still in office federal representative Mike Thompson who has garnered political power because he is re-elected and that increases his political base in Washington. Ever wonder why the committees Thompson sits on are never reported? Do a search and you will be surprised. The longer you stay in elected office the more power you generate. The more power you have the more you get to make decisions on our natural resources. Thompson is in the wine business. Our Federal Representative Huffman, because of reapportionment, is a newbie to the system. And it is a system, but not about fair representation. That is one of the foundation pillars of Democracy. Unfortunately that system favors the wealthy and is one of the reasons why the rich 1% owns most of America. The little guy doesn’t have a chance unless he can attack elected representatives by numbers of voters. It is the only way elected officials will listen to the Middle and Lower classes in America. And because in America less than 40% of voters actually vote BIG money corporations determine who gets the resources. You can piss and moan all you want, but if you can’t get voters to vote that heel on the back of your neck will always be there. Ideally, the way it supposed to work is by Gov’t (BY) the people. And (BY) means voters which we don’t have. Trump understands this and he gets richer everyday he is in office. Money talks and bullshit walks. And most of the comments you read are bullshit.

      • Fuck the marijuana growers. They are nothing but criminals who bring a higher criminal element to the area. I have yet to meet an honest, law abiding grower. So I totally support F&W enforcing anything to help dry up the pot.


    • Your capslock key is stuck again, Hog.

    • unbridled phillistine

      I agree with Hogboy! Close Salmon for 20years! Let them return to previous glory. This is not Alaska, Nobody circle hauling out at the mouth of the Eel, Plenty should make the escapement.

      • Salmon is Catch and Release only on the Eel, has been for many years. No one can catch a Salmon and bring it home to eat or sale… legally.

        • unbridled phillistine

          Only 25% of salmon caught and released survive! Leave em b. Stop molesting the Salmon and who know maybe r grandkids will get to catch one and take it home.

          • Oh for heavens sake! “25%” is total bullshit

            • unbridled phillistine

              No its not, Salmon are very fragile. I too do not agree with 25% but that is the official percentage expected to survive. Most people do not know shit about safely catching and releasing! Most die from exhaustion or a punctured gill. You might have the skill but most do not!

              • I just sat next to a fish biologist who said 50%. Even that number seems high. I, myself use 30# braid and at least 15# leader, which means i bring my fish in fast, never net them or pull them on the rocks. Grab them by the tail, use pliers to remove hook and off they go.

                • last silver i caught i gill hooked. i was targeting kings, but it made me wanna kill myself! i still feel bad, he was so beautiful.

          • where did you get that data? maybe if you use bait and the hook is in the belly. I have been fishing my entire life. the best fishing on this river is below the dam and above the diversion it is also a nice float if you are not into fishing. its catch and release and you must only be targeting squaw fish to be legal. I use a barbless spinner.

      • oh give me a F*+×÷%$ BREAK! When i was a kid, there WASNT a ‘pike minnow’ derby’, it was a skwah feesh DERBY. So sorry about if i OFFEND anyone. Ca has turned into some overly entitled pansies with an overabundance of BUTTHURT feelings just waiting for someone to blindside. Thank you miss or missed information, i will pencil that in somewhere if i ever have time. pssh.

    • Hogranch you don’t know what you are writing about.

    • What? Where are these people with nets catching all the Salmon on the Eel?

      • unbridled phillistine

        Most of the Eel run is caught up in south east Alaska on their return south to spawn. Those fish are marathon runners and travel all over the north pacific . It is the loss of head waters traditional spawning grounds that are to blame not fisherman. “Where can I get some dam bait” Dams are the root of all Salmons pitfalls.

        • Yes, our Salmon on caught around the world. Brought they meant netting on the Eel. Everybody so on the Salmon issue and not one person mentions Steelhead


          • yes they did mention steelhead. @ perspectve, can you please try to create some READABLE comments?

        • Like many reasons Industrial Man is to blame.

          WOW!! You need to go to HSU and take a fisheries class. Or at least call the professor and talk with him. Too many comments about what salmon do and where go are inaccurate. And shooting from the hip scrambles the issues. The Federal Fish and Wildlife is a good source of information. This quote is from the 2015 report:

          “In the Pacific Northwest, (includes California) salmon populations are doing very poorly. There are many reasons for this. Logging an area around a stream reduces the shade and nutrients available to the stream and increases the amount of silt or dirt in the water which can choke out developing eggs. Dams cause fish to die from the shock of going through the turbines and from predators which eat the disoriented fish as they emerge from the dam. Fishing is another source of death that can contribute to the decline of salmon. The weather also affects the amount of food that is available to salmon in the ocean.”

          • unbridled phillistine

            I used to be a timber faller and we could not fall a tree within 300 feet of any water way, Just to leave shade. You remove the dams and let the natural flood action of winter to flush silt out, And the other problems of pin stocks and turbines goes away! The problem is that 99% of spawning grounds are 50 feet under water.

            • Your remark about flushing silt and sediment raises a good study question in my mind. Just downstream of Potter Valley is Lake Mendocino. Bureau of Reclamation doesn’t let that fill before spring for flood control reasons. So most of Scott dam’s water flows out in the winter once the reservoir fills. But, is the dam’s presence reducing the flushing mechanism in a significant way just by its presence or by the way it’s operated??

            • Louisiana Pacific and Emmerson logger

              “Used to be” are the key words. I worked the Bald Hills area in the 1970’s and we cut everything to the river’s edge. And nobody stopped us.

  • Dams on the eel are nothing new. Diverting the water however is.
    Kim has written about it before.

  • Thanks for tracking this. PRIOR to the diversion, Potter Valley had such a high water table on its own that melons were a dry-land crop along with pears, pasture, etc. It was very diversified.

    Then, PV flat-landers were bought off by the diversion. Water = Money…. and that’s the grape/wine industry. The price of bottom land soared.

    Now, the real-estate industry (which it is) will crash without the diversion; and neither the Real Estate interests NOR the wine/irrigated pasture owners will allow this to happen. Ever. And it will not matter one whit what goes down with the fish.

    Most of the Mountain People of PV have never had the access necessary to divert the Eel (thank goodness) and have made do with small isolated springs for gardens and product with lots of private-treaty sharing. The relative affluence of the Cannabis Era has caused some wells to be sunk in the Mountains, it’s true, but with very limited results.

    Sonoma County will NEVER give up the Eel’s water.
    PG&E will NEVER surrender the Eel’s water.
    And Mendocino Real Estate interests will NEVER allow the Eel to run free.
    All three of those predictions are bankable.

    Forty-eight years of observation have put this writing on my Wall. New “Study” hoopla is a waste of time and money, and only the bureaucrats will benefit. As usual.

    • amimissingsomething

      Anon Forrest, We seem to disagree about most subjects but this one is very dear to my heart……. I Completely agree…well I guess not because of the never’s. “We the People” can get the dams removed and flows returned to the Eel. I do completely agree with your observations of what has happened in the past. Let us all work together to change this and restore the Eel River to what it once was. A great “Wild and Scenic River”!!! “Greed is the culture of destruction”

    • bring back the Eel flows. the Eel is such a beautiful river. the river is sick and barely staggers along by mid summer.


    • Seed melons were grown into the 1930’s after the diversion in 1905. My grandfather was one of the farmers. He sold and left the valley in the middle 1930’s. Grapes were not planted till the 1970’s when rootstock was developed that could grow in the low winter temperatures. My father wanted to buy a piece of land in the very southern part of the valley but the temperature was too low for the available rootstock at that time.

    • Anon Forrest, you got that right. And as of yet, I havent seen any SMART energy alternatives in Ca, on a large scale, just local landowners who go off grid with a few 12v batteries, a solar panel, and a small generator. I say fuck pg&e! They got some dark shit in their closet. And they have monopolized these parts. I was taught that was illegal, wtf??

  • The only good dam is a beaver dam!

  • The article says 70,000 acre-feet of water are diverted from the Eel each year. Since there are 327,000 gallons in an acre foot, total water diversion is about 23 billion gallons. That is equivalent to 4.6 MILLION 5,000 gallon water tanks (those large black poly tanks that are about 8 feet diameter and about 12 feet tall). How many cannabis farmers does that translate to? If every cannabis farmer used 10 of those large tanks, then 1/2 million cannabis farmers would be required to take as much water out of the Eel as Mendocino, Sonoma, and Marin Counties.

  • You will need this docket number on comment form : CP77-254. That water is used to generate energy by hydro electric. No need, go solar or wind! Save the fish, save the Eel! Protect your watershed!✌️ 💦💦🌎💦💦

  • I don’t blame them for not involving Humboldt, they’re probably just trying to avoid another Richardson grove ordeal. Where nothing really changes except the tax payers get to foot a ever increasing bill.

  • Water for grapes paramount, water for Salmon........ what's a Salmon?

    How much of the diverted water goes to the wine industry? If it is around 30% then there will never be a dam removal. The wine industry is too powerful politically and any attempt to curtail their water will fail.

    • Timothy McVeigh's ghost

      So much goes to wine that the Russian river stops running into the ocean in the summer and is dammed at goat rock by a large sand bar. This would still happen naturally without the diversion, however it exemplifies the fact that all water diverted is used.

  • water………salmon………pot…….nah………….way simpler…………greed………….annon forrest nailed it

  • Congrats Kym.. This is the sanest string I’ve seen in a very long time..

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