‘We Need to Talk About Removing Scott Dam,” Say Friends of the Eel River

Aerial photo of Scott Dam and Lake Pillsbury

Aerial photo of Scott Dam and Lake Pillsbury [Photo by Rob Badger; Courtesy of Friends of the Eel River]

Press release from Friends of the Eel River:

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), the utility that owns Scott and Cape Horn Dams on the upper Eel River, announced yesterday that the company is moving to auction the dams to buyers who would want to keep them in place to maintain the diversion of Eel River water into the Russian River.

Friends of the Eel River Conservation Director Scott Greacen said, “We welcome PG&E’s recognition of the fact that the Eel River dams don’t make economic sense, and we’re encouraged the company is moving to accelerate a process that could too easily be subject to almost endless delays. But what’s good for PG&E is not necessarily what’s best for the Eel River or for the region. There’s room to talk, but we really need to talk about removing Scott Dam.”

In its letter to the Eel-Russian River Commission announcing its plans, PG&E states that “the project has key environmental attributes and provides important regional benefits including recreation opportunities and a significant contribution to the Russian River water supply.” Here, PG&E is doing what any rational seller would – seeking the highest possible price for its property by emphasizing its notional benefits, while playing down its many drawbacks. Potential buyers would be wise to carefully investigate these claimed benefits, as well as the costs PG&E is less eager to discuss.

PG&E’s acknowledgment that the Eel River dams are not an economic asset for the company is the most significant fact to emerge from this announcement. If the dams made money, PG&E would be keeping them.

The Eel River dams are in fact not assets, but environmental and economic liabilities. The math on both ledgers is only going to get worse over time. Similarly, while diversions from the Eel River have been convenient for managers of the over-appropriated Russian River, they are very likely to continue to decline in volume, and very unlikely to ever return to the last century’s levels. Though the dams do provide benefits to Russian River interests in the form of water diversions, those benefits pale against significant costs to Eel River fisheries.

PG&E is doing what we expect any American corporation to do – seeking both to protect its shareholders from reasonably foreseeable risks and to maintain the value of its assets over time. Having recognized that the Eel River dams don’t make economic sense as a way to produce electric power, PG&E has suggested that entities interested in both electrical power production and water supply may want to continue operating the dams and diversion to the Russian River.

However, any new owner will have to shoulder the same burdens PG&E has decided are not worth the trouble. These liabilities include the relicensing process now underway before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). A new license is likely to result in additional reductions in the volume of Eel River diversions, as well as substantial costs to comply with mandatory license conditions for fish passage over Scott Dam and water quality protection – not to mention the costs of relicensing itself.

Any potential buyer will also face significant risks and costs associated with dam safety. FERC is refusing to address dam safety issues in relicensing, but that only increases the uncertainty associated with seismic and geotechnical threats, particularly to Scott Dam, which will be a century old when its current license expires in 2022.

PG&E has been investing for years now in geologists’ investigations of the Bartlett Springs Fault, a branch of the San Andreas Fault system which runs only miles east of Scott Dam, but was completely unknown when the dam was built. This work shows the Bartlett Springs Fault is larger and more active than previously thought – and that the area around Gravelly Valley, now the Lake Pillsbury reservoir, shows the most evidence of recent activity along the entire fault. This information only adds to longstanding concerns about the construction of Scott Dam itself and the stability of the southern bank above and behind the dam. We will be interested to see whether potential purchasers will be provided full access to PG&E’s internal assessments of the seismic and geotechnical threats to Scott Dam.

 

Earlier Chapter: PG&E Plans to Auction off the Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project

 

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50 comments

  • Remove that Scott Dam for sure!

    AMEN!
    Thank you for fighting for the Eel…

  • There is one entity that would highly benefit from purchase of the project, and might even be able to put the money together: the Sonoma County Water Agency, which owns rights to the water in Lake Mendocino. (Most of the water in Lake Mendocino comes from the diversion of the Eel River at the PVP.) It would not be in SCWA’s interest to remove the dams, so if they are successful bidders, we will certainly have to put up a damn good fight on the environmental grounds cited by FOER.

    • Article in the Press democrat says the diversion uses 20 billion gallons of water from the eel river watershed per year. They also claim lake Mendocino would dry up without the diversion. Have you ever heard of lake Sonoma water problems?

  • Could communities taking the diverted water survive without it? If they can’t, then some thinking other than just remove the dam needs to take place. A dependency has been created and can’t be just cut off without addressing that issue.

    • Remove dams but keep the tunnel and divert water during high water periods from there Sonoma county wine interests can learn to manage it better!

      • That would give them water when they didn’t really need it. To make winter rain useful, they would have to have another reservoir with dam built at the other end of the tunnel. Maybe there is a good site for that, I don’t know.

        But, if such a thing is feasible, at least it would reserve flows for Humboldt Co fish when it was needed. Unless the fish require winter scouring too.

    • The “community” could handle it, but the mega-grape growers….not so much. I’m thinking there might be a role for Inverse Condemnation to play in this.
      Given what septic tanks and grapes have done to the wells, to say nothing of the water-table, IC could possibly work out all around.

      • Grapes don’t really need to be watered once established, in most soils. In fact watering grapes is outlawed in much of Europe. Water stress is beneficial to high quality wine grapes.. watering increases yields (which is why it’s used) but decreases quality.
        I guess my point is, they don’t need the water down there really, and if they didn’t have it they would produce better wine anyway.

        • Thanks for the insight. It should be no surprise that CA vintners go for quantity over quality. It seems to be inherent in capitalism.

    • The problem is that there is no infrastructure in place to get H2O from lake Sonoma to the parts of Sonoma Co. that are north of lake Sonoma. Water from lake Sonoma could cover losing the Eels water but again the north end of SoCo uses Mendo H2O.

      • Soon-to-be Former Supervisor Ryan Dumberg

        Speaking of Sonoma, did anyone actually SEE Ryan Sundberg in Sonoma the other night while every other supervisorial candidate (from both districts) were where they were supposed to be – in Eureka @ the Labor Temple candidates’ forum?

    • We aren’t risking people’s tap water being shut off. The farmers can adapted.

  • Twinkle Winklestein

    Water is Life. It also holds all History within, and reveals our dis-respect toward the web of life and the unified biosphere we all share. Yet, we actually poop in cleaner water, here in the U.S., than much of the world has to drink. Water is the essential ingredient in Everything, so let’s keep it clear, cool and clean!!!

    • Twinkle, you should explain that to the Mateel, e.g. Reggae on the River (South Fork Eel), since they feel its OK to dispose of 44,000 gallons of septic wastewater into onsite leach fields in the river bar and below the 100 year floodplain, i.e. generated from 5000 attendees a day taking showers and raising the E Coli level in the river 3 times during and after the event.

      • Yeah, we shouldn’t have to tolerate the deaths caused by E. coli from reggae, I remember when before reggae was here nobody died from E Coli. Such a shame

        • I agree, such a shame…

          • It’s not just the E Coli I’ve heard the pollution from the smoke cloud effects the mating birds rountines making the lazier and their temporary structures actually block the sun rays from hitting the soil as intended, and they haven’t even done a ten year environmental impact review on it.

  • Wow what a Beautiful picture

  • Ernie Branscomb

    Just speculating here, okay? I have no facts….. But when does that matter on a blog comment.

    If the dam is removed:
    What is going to happen with with all of the naturally occurring mercury that collects in the lake, not to mention the sediment that filled the lake during our numerous floods?

    Who would want to buy all of the associated environmental problems. Including all of the psudoenvironmentalist’s opinions. (People that truly love the environment, but not enough to educate themselves beyond cemtrails being a bad thing.)

    It seems to me that PG&E should provide the clean up and removal of the dam. The dam is no longer a viable operation, mostly do to public opinion.

    We should worry more about human spawning, that’s the real problem.

  • Veterans friend

    We actually need to STOP TALKING ABOUT IT. We need it DONE.

  • Mendocino Mamma

    Fish and Game should back removal. It is a no brainer! Dams such as this are an archaic item that have caused gross environmental damage to our eco systems for nearly 100 years. We have sadly and tragically learned the effects/results. It is now the time to remediate and mitigate. Do we learn from our mistakes or keep repeating them? As far as the water for Sonoma etc Lake Mendocino is more vital for that application. 🐟

    • I’m pretty sure the Potter Valley Project is the supplier of nearly all the water that flows into Lake Mendocino.

      • Mendocino Mamma

        No…the river flows wether backed up by a dam or not. Lots of other tributaries and smaller creeks fill the headwaters above Lake Mendocino. It would be full Scott Dam or not. Interesting fact…the “river” current still runs deep in Lake Mendocino, hidden below the surface it still runs in its preferred channel. The town of Calpella used to lie in the center of the valley that is now Lake Mendocino before it was relocated to it’s present location. The Russian River resorts by Guerneville and Rio Nido all pre existed before Coyote Valley Dam. It is not about removing that dam but the Scott Dam way above Coyote Valley Dam by at least 30 miles of river.

  • So if a dam creates water storage, removing it won’t change the eel during the summer months, so all we gain is higher river levels in the winter , isn’t that a PLUS, as always too funny, who needs water storage

  • Growing things is better than the ocean having more water

  • Nino, you are voicing a common misconception, and one that justified building of dams across the West, with the result of terrible damage to every major watershed and many smaller watersheds. A brief post can hardly begin to explain all of this, but to put it as simply as possible, it’s not a black-and-white choice between “growing things” (I assume you mean crops) and “the ocean having more water.” There are also ways to farm sustainably, in harmony with natural cycles, so that people can be fed and even enjoy non-essential crops like wine and marijuana, that do not require moving water from one watershed into another. And finally, the ocean does need “more water” — or at least the life within it, including the sea animals many humans rely on for food, depend upon replenishment through natural cycles.

  • Does anyone know how certain the license renewal may be?

    • Mendocino Mamma

      If it TRULY was valuable, and the permits were EZ don’t you think PG&E would keep it in its coffers? Does the used car dealer always tell a buyer about the huge crack in the head, or the burnt tranny? Hmmmm…I would hope that the possible buyers would get a full inspection and disclosure from PG&E or is it as is buyer beware?

  • What really caused the fall of the Eel River
    RR construction had a largely unknown but very significant impact on the river.
    As Ray Mathison shared in “The History of Alderpoint”.
    This is his words,
    “As they started building the railway along the Eel River all the rocks and ruble were pushed over the bank, this was the beginning of the destruction of the river. This also as the beginning of the end of the Big Salmon Runs on the Eel.
    By the time the railroad was completed in 1914 a tremendous amount of material had been pushed into the Eel River. As the railroad was being built along the Eel River canyon many very large landslides started happening. The debris from these were also shoved into the river.
    Then they blew out the falls near Kikawaka slide. This, over a period of years, let a lot of mountain slide into the river.
    Most of this material was put into the Eel River in the wintertime when the river was high. It then got carried down river where it was deposited into the Eel River slowly choking the flow of water. It was not to many years after that before the ships could no longer run up river as far as Scotia.
    In 1921 Scott’s damn was completed, it was found that the dam was able to help mitigate the flow of water helping to regulate the the flow a already stressed river.
    All of this then a few dry years in the early thirties caused the big salmon to congregate in the lower part of the Eel River. There were so many of them and with the water being so low, they ran out of oxygen and died by the thousands….”
    Mr. Mathieson describes how when he moved back to Alderpoint in 1940, the largest salmon were gone. Fall runs still brought a salmon run but no more of the six-footers.

    Fall rains came later and later, and now the railroad had bulldozers shoving material over the banks even faster filling in a lot of the big waterholes, particularly in the lowest part of the river.

    Despite warnings about the RR being placed below the historic flood levels of 1885, 1909, and 1935, RR equipment was left on the tracks. Then the floods of 1955 and 1964 came and did a tremendous amount of damage.
    Mr. Mathierson recounts, “After the 1964 flood when they rebuilt the RR they blew up most of the big rocks that where in the river (I’ll never understand why) completely ruining most of the fishing holes.
    The holes that are left have been filled to where they are only about 1/3 of the original size.” (as of 1998) “I have a picture of one of these holes taken in 1913; it had three big rocks. Now it has no big rocks and is completely in ruins. This was a hole where salmon and steelhead used to school up and rest before going on up the river”. He goes on to report casual use of bulldozers by unsupervised RR workers and a look the other way attitude by Fish and Game men” I asked the Fish and Game men in 1975 why they allowed this river to be destroyed, they claimed to know nothing about it, and I told them they surely did know. That ended the conversation.”

    article from the Humboldt Times 1910, report an immense blast that was part of the construction of the RR line to the east of Holmes with the subtitle “Hundreds of Tons of Earth Thrown into Eel River”.

    September of 1888 Jeremiah Curtin,

    while traveling south from Blocksburg passed through a fire in progress: “Leaving the fire region early in the morning, we reached Eel river at midday. It was hot in the ravine, and the water, covered with green slime looked so unwholesome that I decided to climb the mountain straight ahead of us.”

    • What a history lesson! Will you recommend a source from which I may learn more about this? Whether or no, I certainly appreciate this education. Thanks.

  • If nothing else they need to put in a fish ladder.

  • What caused the fall of the Eel River
    RR construction had a largely unknown but very significant impact on the river.
    As Ray Mathison shared in “The History of Alderpoint”.
    This is his words,
    “As they started building the railway along the Eel River all the rocks and ruble were pushed over the bank, this was the beginning of the destruction of the river. This also as the beginning of the end of the Big Salmon Runs on the Eel.
    By the time the railroad was completed in 1914 a tremendous amount of material had been pushed into the Eel River. As the railroad was being built along the Eel River canyon many very large landslides started happening. The debris from these were also shoved into the river.
    Then they blew out the falls near Kikawaka slide. This, over a period of years, let a lot of mountain slide into the river.
    Most of this material was put into the Eel River in the wintertime when the river was high. It then got carried down river where it was deposited into the Eel River slowly choking the flow of water. It was not to many years after that before the ships could no longer run up river as far as Scotia.
    In 1921 Scott’s damn was completed, it was found that the dam was able to help mitigate the flow of water helping to regulate the the flow a already stressed river.
    All of this then a few dry years in the early thirties caused the big salmon to congregate in the lower part of the Eel River. There were so many of them and with the water being so low, they ran out of oxygen and died by the thousands….”
    Mr. Mathieson describes how when he moved back to Alderpoint in 1940, the largest salmon were gone. Fall runs still brought a salmon run but no more of the six-footers.

    Fall rains came later and later, and now the railroad had bulldozers shoving material over the banks even faster filling in a lot of the big waterholes, particularly in the lowest part of the river.

    Despite warnings about the RR being placed below the historic flood levels of 1885, 1909, and 1935, RR equipment was left on the tracks. Then the floods of 1955 and 1964 came and did a tremendous amount of damage.
    Mr. Mathierson recounts, “After the 1964 flood when they rebuilt the RR they blew up most of the big rocks that where in the river (I’ll never understand why) completely ruining most of the fishing holes.
    The holes that are left have been filled to where they are only about 1/3 of the original size.” (as of 1998) “I have a picture of one of these holes taken in 1913; it had three big rocks. Now it has no big rocks and is completely in ruins. This was a hole where salmon and steelhead used to school up and rest before going on up the river”. He goes on to report casual use of bulldozers by unsupervised RR workers and a look the other way attitude by Fish and Game men” I asked the Fish and Game men in 1975 why they allowed this river to be destroyed, they claimed to know nothing about it, and I told them they surely did know. That ended the conversation.”

    article from the Humboldt Times 1910, report an immense blast that was part of the construction of the RR line to the east of Holmes with the subtitle “Hundreds of Tons of Earth Thrown into Eel River”.

    September of 1888 Jeremiah Curtin,

    while traveling south from Blocksburg passed through a fire in progress: “Leaving the fire region early in the morning, we reached Eel river at midday. It was hot in the ravine, and the water, covered with green slime looked so unwholesome that I decided to climb the mountain straight ahead of us.”

    For some reason everyone over looks the point. It seems that none of the people actually know what is happening.

    Maybe if commercial fishing was to stop off shore, and they where to build a couple hatcheries along the river that might help!

    I travel the river all the time and live right below the dam (Scotts).
    Above the dam the river and creeks are already drying up (as they do every year). Without Scotts dam that would equal zero habit for the fish and a dry river by the end of August.
    “Please don’t be couch side activists” !

    • What caused the fall of the South Fork Eel River? Or the East Branch of the South Fork Eel; no significant impact from RR’s there. Or what about the Van Duzen? There was no significant RR’s there either. However, man still had a hand in all those significant and adverse impacts as well. Even today, man still impacts all those same rivers with instream gravel extraction. And all in the name of the greater good. In fact they say they are helping the watershed, by extracting all that aggraded gravel, that is choking the river. They claim they are allowing salmon to migrate and repopulate only because of their instream extraction practices. Funny thing about man, its the only species on earth that lie’s…

  • The question being; what is the truth? The public will never know the truth. Is it only about endangered and threatened species or just about more water to grow more weed? Funny, all of a sudden, the Humboldt County Supervisors have changed their minds on the dam question…

    http://www.times-standard.com/general-news/20180605/supervisors-call-for-removal-of-scott-dam-solidify-stance-on-potter-valley-project?platform=hootsuite

    The truth means responsibility, right; which is why everyone dreads it! I get it, but what you need to remember is that there’s what people want to hear, there’s what people want to believe, there’s everything else, THEN there’s the truth!

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