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Local News

Will there be enough cold water?

A lake among mountains.
Lake Pillsbury, seen from above in May 2022.

With the spillway gates remaining open on Scott Dam, likely causing a dramatic decrease in Lake Pillsbury, agencies are trying to determine if there will be enough cold water for salmonids.

The plumbing of the Potter Valley Project is one of the most complicated on the west coast. A biological opinion from 2002 attempts to balance the needs of water users and endangered fish in the Eel River and Russian River watersheds, which are both key to the recovery of endangered California Chinook.

Last month, PG&E, which owns and operates the project, announced that it would not close the spillway, or radial gates on Scott Dam after April first. That’s expected to reduce the levels of Lake Pillsbury by 20%. The reason stated was an initial engineering assessment that found seismic vulnerabilities in the dam. The gates remain open now, days after they would usually be closed. And PG&E is about a third of the way into the two and half years it has to submit a plan to decommission the project and surrender the license.

Last week, FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, responded to PG&E’s announcement, writing that, “The unilateral decision to keep the spillway gates at Scott Dam open indefinitely could impact PG&E’s compliance” with measures included in the 20-year-old biological opinion by the National Marine Fisheries Service. FERC told PG&E that if the utility wants authorization to keep the gates open indefinitely, it must file an amendment application, with details of anticipated environmental harms and documentation of consultation with agencies.

We caught up with Joshua Fuller, a NOAA fisheries biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service, to ask for his thoughts on the latest developments…

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.