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Local News

Reduced flows to benefit wild fish

The fish ladder at Cape Horn Dam, where the story of the current variance begins.

June 17, 2021 — Lake Mendocino’s supply of water from the Eel River is likely to dry up sometime this summer, due to flows being reduced to a  fifth of what they were when conditions were dry rather than critical. 

The lake receives regular infusions of water from the east branch of the Russian River through the Eel River via the Potter Valley Project. The Project is still owned and operated by PG&E, though a regional consortium is working to take it over when the license expires next year. The two-basin solution, a post-PG&E proposal brokered by Congressman Jared Huffman, includes the removal of Scott Dam.

In April, PG&E requested a flow variance from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, to preserve storage capacity in Lake Pillsbury, the reservoir behind Scott Dam. According to FERC documents, the company proposed “to reduce minimum flow releases to the East Branch Russian River from...25 cubic feet per second to...five.” The company also asked the Commission to cut its release to the Potter Valley Irrigation District in half, from fifty cubic feet per second to 25. The temporary variance request has been approved, until June 21, though it could be extended to become an actual variance. The deadline for public comment has passed.

Alicia Hamann is the executive director of Friends of the Eel River, which has long advocated for the removal of the entire Potter Valley Project. Although the current variance request hinges on Lake Pillsbury and the construction of Scott Dam, events may have been set in motion back in March, when the Friends challenged conditions at Cape Horn Dam.


Link to FOER’s public comment on current variance request.


More from Alicia Hamann, Executive Director of Friends of the Eel River

Local News