Restoring The Eel, With Dams Or Without

Apr 11, 2019

April 10, 2019 — The Eel River between the two dams of the Potter Valley Project may be accessible to salmon, but it lacks the habitat they need to spawn. Now, amidst uncertainty over the fate of the dams, the Eel River Recovery Project is embarking on a feasibility study of a plan to improve habitat and human recreation opportunities— regardless of what happens to the dams.

The Eel River Recovery Project does not take a position on dam removal, focusing instead on studying and saving the plants, animals, and tributaries that make up the watershed. But salmon habitat in the eleven miles between the dams is poor, because it’s hard for softball-sized spawning gravel to make it through Scott Dam, which forms Lake Pillsbury in Lake County. And steady water flows have straightened the river and allowed willow trees to flourish along the banks, narrowing the channel and reducing the diversity of habitat that fish require in various life stages.

Pat Higgins, director of the Eel River Recovery Project, sees potential for restoring the bends in the river by tearing willow out where it chokes the waterway, like at Trout Creek campground. But  at the mouth of Soda Creek, which joins the Eel about a mile below Scott Dam, the river spreads out into a wide, sediment-choked series of shallow channels. Here, Higgins thinks it might be possible to use the willow to guide the river back into shape.

In addition to benefiting fish, he believes this would open up boating opportunities. To entice tourists and outdoor enthusiasts, he’d like to see a walking and biking trail along the river between Pioneer Bridge in Potter Valley and Soda Creek in Lake County. With campgrounds at both ends of that trail, he believes the river could become a destination for eco-tourists to celebrate the salmon, have a vigorous day's exercise, or just admire the view.

Join us as we travel from Potter Valley to Soda Creek on a misty Saturday morning. We’ll make plenty of stops along the way, taking in the scenery and learning about the river as we go.