Representative Huffman Comments on PG&E’s Plans for the Potter Valley Project

Jared Huffman

US Congressman Jared Huffman (official photo)

After the February 23rd Eel-Russian River Commission meeting in which PG&E acknowledged that the value of the Potter Valley Project (PVP) is primarily as a water transfer of regional importance, US Congressman Jared Huffman gave some straight-forward input on the topic in his weekly phone conversation with the KMUD Newsroom.

When asked, ‘How did you originally learn about PG&E’s plans to divest itself from the PVP?’  Huffman said,

It may have come as a surprise to folks who were at the Eel-Russian River Commission, and heard PG&E explain its considering these various ways to abandon or transfer the project so that it would no longer operate it.

It doesn’t come as a surprise to me and the reason is I’ve familiarized myself with the project quite a bit with the project. Ive had lots of conversations with stakeholders.

And I’m aware that the economics of these small one-off hydro projects, like Potter Valley, are not what they used to be.

PG&E is facing a potentially very long very expensive re-licensing process. There’s not a lot of power generated by this project, and PG&E can probably have less headaches and better economics if it secures that power elsewhere– if it’s able to get out of this project–as opposed to going into this open-ended process where there could be many millions of dollars of mitigation costs and a lot of uncertainty in whether they’d be able to divert the amount of water needed to generate enough electricity.

So just a huge amount of questions that from a business standpoint would lead PG&E to this point. I’m not surprised.

When asked, ‘If decommissioning one or both of the dams became the wisest choice, where would the money to do that come from?’ Huffman deflected to the water supply priority.

Well, this is where it gets very complicated. As a hydro-power project, the PVP is fairly fungible. Its not a huge project. Nobody is out there really depending on it for their power. And PG&E can replace it. As a water project, it’s a lot more valuable to a lot of folks.

You’ve got interests in Mendocino, Sonoma and even some communities in Marin County that would have water supply impacts if those diversions were completely cut off.

So there’s all kinds of questions when you think about a possible decommissioning scenario. Would all of the infrastructure come out, or could some of the run of the river diversion continue for communities that over the last hundred years have come to rely on that water. …and I should emphasize, you have some communities that don’t have any other water. Places like Potter Valley in Mendocino County. This is the only water they really have. You have other communities that have some other options.

And you also have some solutions like raising the dam on Lake Mendocino that could help those interests scale back the amount of water they would need to rely on from the Eel River.

So there’s all these pieces that are going to be part of an interesting conversation going forward to find out if there are solutions that can satisfy both basins, that can give us opportunities to make improvements on the Eel River, but also not completely eliminate the water supply for folks who depend on it on the Russian River basin side.

I am actively exploring that in a stakeholder process. Although, as a member of Congress, I don’t have authority to dictate a solution to this tricky problem, I am interested in trying to take care of the needs of both basins.

When asked, ‘Will the stakeholder meetings continue?’

They will continue as long as folks want them to continue. I cannot compel them. But so far we’ve got I think a lot of the essential stakeholders around the table they are engaging in a constructive dialogue about a possible two basin solution that everyone could live with and I think that’s an important conversation. If anything its become more important with PG&E hinting a little more directly that it may be interested in walking away from the project.

When asked, ‘Who represents the fish and the Eel River interests, and if their voices are heard’, Huffman listed The Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), California Trout, Trout Unlimited, Friends of the Eel River, the County of Humboldt, Round Valley Tribe, and the Wyott Tribe, and then he said, “And I’m no slouch when it comes to fish protection either.”

Huffman continued, “A lot of folks are looking at how can we do the right thing by the fisheries, as we explore these water management possibilities.”

When asked, ‘What do you know about how FERC’s (Federal Energy Regulatory Commisison) strict application timeline impacts PG&E opportunity to make decisions,’ Huffman responded,

What I know about FERC’s process is that it takes a very long time. It is very expensive. And there is not a great amount of certainty at the front end of that process. So I think PG&E is looking at this as any business would: they’re weighing the costs and benefits and trying to decide whats best for their ratepayers and their shareholders. I don’t think anyone could blame them for looking at the downside of pushing through the re-licensing process.

When asked, ‘It appears PG&E has continued to operate the PVP because it did not want to remove the water source from the Russian River.  Do you have any comment about that?’

This is not a simple extraction. If PG&E were to decide they wanted to leave the project– as fungible as the power is, the truth is that for the last hundred years, this has been largely a water project. Even though the water rights and other aspects of it don’t necessarily reflect that. The politics certainly do.

I think PG&E would love to hand off this project if there could be a way to do that that took care of everybody.

If their walking away from this project meant pulling the rug out from under communities in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, that don’t have any replacement supplies, I think they would be sobered by that. I don’t want to speak for them. Someone should ask them about that, but I think that has given them pause. Because they represent power customers on both basins here.

So they would love for some consensus to emerge, I believe, that takes care of the water needs, and potentially lets them off the hook for a power project that may not make a lot of sense going forward.

And regarding Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District’s ongoing desire to share supply with municipalities on the north coast, Huffman laughed, then said,

The Humboldt water district has a problem that most water districts in California would love to have. They have water that they can’t use, and they don’t want to lose it. So, they want to find some beneficial use so they don’t lose this water right that originates back in the time of an active mill using huge volumes of water that no longer happens.

I can’t blame them for not wanting to lose that water right. But I think the idea of transporting that water anywhere in the state and getting the place of use and purpose of use permit changes and navigating all the opposition and controversy that would accompany that would be a pretty uphill challenge. I don’t see it happening.

In a phone interview a few days later, Dave Moreno spokesperson for PG&E said the company continues to operate the Potter Valley Project because “as a company, we recognize the water benefits of the project that have existed for many decades.”

Lawsuits kept the last fifty-year license from being issued from 1984 when it was due until 2004 when the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued it’s Biological Opinion for the proposed license amendment as a result of lawsuits under the Endangered Species Act.

The Biological Opinion reduced the amount of water diverted from the Eel River to the Russian River by 50% to 75% depending on the water year.  It also mandated releases into the Eel River that as Moreno said, “mimic natural flows.”  Moreno also said that summer flows in the mainstem of the Eel River are now increased over natural flows because “Lake Pillsbury holds winter runoff that would otherwise flow out to sea.”

Thank you KMUD News for including these questions in your conversation with Mr. Huffman

Earlier Chapter:


  • So good to know that we’ve managed to create a system where clean, renewable power is uneconomical. Trump would be proud.

    • Sharpen your pencil

      It’s not clean or economical(especially), it’s a dam in a river……. To hell with the vineyard and orchards, these people have been pulling water out of our bodies of water and rivers in far greater amounts than the local marijuana farmers. In doing so only furthering the depletion of our water flow in the summer, however the marijuana industry is the only one taking any hits for it!

    • Legal cannabis farmers are being forced into forbearance during dry months, This includes in stream ponds.
      They say it is to protect fish and wildife when it comes to canbabis but some how Mr. Huffman is concerned about the “interests” of communities that would be affected when it is not cannabis. They have no water rights to the Eel river, just water rights to lake Mendo.

  • The only true “stakeholder” is the Salmon, Green Sturgeon, Otters, Beavers and other wildlife which have been negatively impacted by this blatant dewatering of the Eel River in the big hoax of hydroelectric power…. the entire system is only a farce by which Sonoma and Mendocino steals the Water from the Eel River…. destroying the Eel River and also destroying the best Salmon Spawning Grounds in the entire state. The system is, outdated, antiquated and the Russian River runs too swift for Salmon Spawning and meanwhile the Eel River rund at 90 degrees in some pools due to the water being stolen by PGE and given to Sonoma County for Wine Grapes who chemical and pesticide runoff further kills the health and diversity of the Russian River. The only option is to return 100% of the stolen water to the rightful stream nature has created. There is no other option where we will have 2 healthy rivers. Have we nkt already learned from our destruction of Californias largest salmon fishery in the Eel River basin? Not mentioned is the fact that farmers in Potter Valley never needed any fertilizer as those 100 year old hydroelectric turbines ground up hundreds of thousands of fish which add nutrients to the potter valley irrigation district. Tear down those dams and return the water to the Eel River immediately and we may be able to reverse the direction of extinction for both the Eel River and Russian River Salmon.

  • Shall we relocate the dam next to where ever the McKinley statue ends up, bust open your wallets people, we’re going on a spending spree

  • >”You’ve got interests in Mendocino, Sonoma and even some communities in Marin County that would have water supply impacts if those diversions were completely cut off.”

    He knows were the money comes from. Kiss the salmon goodbye.

  • Huffman is huffin too much! this knumbskull couldn’t run a taco stand! move him out to the cove!
    hes wasting precious oxygen inland!

  • Covelo or busted

    Fairly fungible? Most of the water used in Potter Valley goes to grow alfalfa. That tunnel is over 100 yrs old ….. Iron, Riveted together…Its just got to be getting thin…. To replace it would cost gazzillions……If it ever springs even a small leak… Mts could…… wash away. That diversion has killed tens of millions
    of returning smolt.

    • well, interestingly, pg&e has paid to replace and upgrade a lot of the infrastructure you refer to over the last ten years.

  • I suspect it is a false argument to say the residents of the Russian River watershed can’t do without Eel River water. I think the truth is that agricultural interests (not residential ones) are the ones who have come to depend on this project. Why shouldn’t they have to store rainwater for their ag use just like the residents of Humboldt are being made to do?

    • I think that was the purpose of Lake Sonoma.

      • But lake Sonoma won’t help the politically powerful Paulis and other farmers in Potter valley. They’d have to go back to dry farming as it was before the tunnel was built if the project were to be decommissioned.
        They’re going to fight this until they take their last breath.

    • Farmers are people too.
      These farmers tend to be smaller outfits rather than the corporate interests in the south central valley.

      Most farmers and communities do have alternate water sources available. especially downstream of the Lake Mendocino.

      Potter valley itself and a few other places directly rely on the transfer. But that’s a small percentage of the current transfer.

      • Kelly – I may be wrong but I believe the following conditions currently exist. People living in the Eel River watershed are being required to store water for their dry season needs. At the same time, people living in the Russian River watershed are being allowed to draw diverted Eel River water during the dry season. Shouldn’t the Potter Valley residents (and all the others) be required to store their dry season water too?

  • All good comments when it comes to why, how the Sonoma, Mendocino, and Marin communities have profited hugely from this water diversion from the natural watershed it occupies.

    The bigger question, and something that we (Humboldt) may even be interested in is for them to pay a price for it!! If they take it make them pay, pure and simple. From the vineyards that have increased exponentially for the past 20-30 years to the developers that have built and profited from the housing.

    Complete bullshit that we are holding the bag on this one just like we always are when it comes to where the money and the votes are.

    Huffman your a sellout just like the rest, go back and have some more wine at your Sonoma connections.

    • So right. Humboldt Co seems to get attention when Huffman wants to complain about things that might do something to help the county prosper while simultaneously treating us like a water spigot for those who already got the benefits of economic projects.

  • is there a fish ladder at the Scott’s dam? and if not, how did the squawfish get into reservoir? I found it old how they are able to drop the water level in the winter at the rate they do. I launched one day in February at the paved launch and I couldn’t get back to it in my canoe, I had to drag it thru the cottage area and up the road.

    • barefoot charley

      No fish ladder on the big dam, it completely cuts off the headwaters of the Eel. Squawfish were introduced into the lake itself by fishermen, probably as bait, and they squirt out into the river via dam releases.

      • that makes sense. I have introduced a few shinners into various lakes ice fishing when I was a kid.

  • Two cents: Originally, the PVP was to supply water to the farmers , in the Petaluma and adjacent areas, during the early 1900’s. From there, the project continued to snowball to supply water to the ever increasingly sized cities in the area, to the recreational Guernville swimming holes, and to the now over extending vineyards on the excessively dry hilltops that we see as we pass in southern Mendo and northern Santa Rosa areas.
    What gets me the most, is the recreational usage. Since when do the amenities (luxuries) of the cities outweigh the necessities of the wildlife in this state? From the salmon spawning to the water toxicity to the crab habitation, and of course, the drying out of the forests.
    Heck, my parents remember the days of even as late as the 80’s where you could run a motor boat and water ski in the lower eel. And in my grandparents days where you could walk down to the river after work, pull a few fish out of the river, and not have to worry about any limitations because there were so many fish in the river!
    The thing that is funny is the reply from the people down south is, “The water tables have shifted now to where the majority of the lower eel’s water is now below ground.” The last I checked, it took thousands, if not millions of years for rock underneath the soil to be carved out to allow for that much water to be displaced to below ground. Now if the eel river shifted from one location to another, within a hundred years, that is definitely plausible. But you would expect to see the same volume of running water in the new location as was once in the old. But this isn’t that. Bottom line is the surface water that was once in the eel is no longer in it now.
    Again, my two cents.

  • The dam is not the culprit for low summer flow of the Eel. It clearly states above that the summer flow is actually increased by the dam. The low summer flow is the direct result of usage by Mendo and SoHum folks.

    I also have heard a theory that replanting after redwood timber harvesting affects it as well, as they plant many times heavier than what was taken.

    • you don’t replant redwoods. the Eel was historically lined with old growth. one could assume old growth consumed more water and at a rate faster than any other tree on this planet. I would say evaporation due to lack of shade plays a role, along with increased angular sediments.

    • I think there are many factors. I’m pretty sure a big one is that much of the formerly clear channel is choked with sediment.

      • Nope, not many factors other than over usage. I live on a portion of the lower Eel and the river is down to solid bed rock. It’s not chocked with sentiment … it is just starved of water

  • Well, that’s sure some smooth talking congressman Huffman. I don’t envy your political position to try to keep competing interests happy. In the end it comes down to there are more voters and more political donation big bucks in Marin, Sonoma and south Mendocino counties than there are in the Eel river watershed. I won’t be surprised at all if they hang onto the diversion forever, or as long as Scott Dam can escape being condemned for being an earthquake hazard.

    So thoughts and prayers ya’ll for a lil ole precision earthquake to put a nice crack in Scott dam rendering it unusable. That will put an end to this issue because re-building a new storage dam for an extrabasin water transfer is not likely to happen.

  • We’ve been so snowed . . with the wrong-headed thinking that energy can be created. ‘Generated’ is what the dirty electricity providers call it. Generating electricity. And, electricity is?

    Energy can’t be created or destroyed. ‘Free’ energy is like saying wet water. Energy Is.

    Rothchild (coast-to-coast), Pacific Gas and Electric Company, P.G. & E. Inc., Redwood Coast Energy Authority, Community Choice Aggregate, Spark of Calif. Check ’em out. How much are they trading for today?

    PG&E pretty much bailed two months ago when the note on the billing said, ‘In an electrical emergency, call 911.’

    The generators destroy a dipole as the circuit goes through and it takes twice as much energy to re-place the dipole before it exits the generator. That’s what i thought was ‘dirty electricity.’ More later, but years ago, a friend got popped for stopping the meter. I checked the Codes, and interestingly enough, pg&e won’t file charges unless they can prove a loss of $250. And, they can’t. The AC moving in, along, through, and around the wires, loses – seems like 80% (?). It’s not like PG&E have meters measuring the circuit on its return go-round – for loss. I used to stop my meter’s dial going around for up to a year – nothing ever came of it. Nothing.

    Maybe a crudish transfer way to say it, but that’s how i’ve come to look at this man-made frequency we find ourselves in.

    Primary Water is Why We Don’t Have a Water Shortage

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