Water, Water everywhere. And all the boards did shrink.
Water, Water everywhere. Nor any drop to drink.
Rime of the Ancient Mariner Samuel Taylor Coleridge 1798
Is California going to be sailing with the Ancient Mariner? Are we going to have enough water for all of our people?
Let’s take a close look at Sonoma County. Some background is necessary.
Cape Horn Dam sits on the Eel River, about 4 miles from Potter Valley. Built in 1900, the Cape Horn Dam is the oldest combined concrete gravity and earth filled dam in the state. The Potter Valley Project diverts water from the Eel River to the Russian River. The Potter
Valley Project was built in the 1920’s and is owned by PG&E. The Potter Valley Project supplies most of North Sonoma’s water which means 31,000 people directly and 500,000 + indirectly. The Potter Valley hydropower project is under the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).
Components of the Potter Valley Project
Going south from just east of Willits:
Cape Horn Dam - Van Arsdale Reservoir
Lake Pillsbury - Scott Dam
Tunnel - Power House
Lake Mendocino - Coyote Valley Dam
Warm Springs Dam - Lake Sonoma
Lake Mendocino is the main water source for Sonoma County.
PG&E owns and operates the hydro-electricity project that includes Scott Dam and Coyote Valley Dam. PG&E originally announced in 2019 that it would not renew its license and was no longer trying to sell it. The Two-Basin Solution coalition that agreed to prioritize fish passage and water supply was the only entity to express interest in taking over the license. However, on January 31, the Two-Basin Solution sent a letter to FERC stating that the regional partnership of nonprofits and local government bodies would not file an application when the current license expired. This was not surprising since the coalition had been unable to gather the estimated $12 Million to $18 Million needed to conduct the studies required by the various regulatory agencies.
One of the challenges at the Potter Valley powerhouse is that a transformer went offline in July. PG&E estimated that repairing the transformer bank would cost between $5 Million and $10 Million and could take up to two years to complete.
On February 2, PG&E announced that PG&E “concluded it is beneficial to PG&E’s electric generation customers to proceed with the work necessary to return the powerhouse to full operational status.”
PG&E expects to be able to recoup the costs of the repair, which are still unknown, within five years. During this time PG&E plans to continue to operate under annual licenses from FERC.
Now, exactly what is the controversy about? It appears the Congressman Jared Huffman (who is not the only congressional representative involved: Congressman Garamendi’s 3rd Congressional District represents Lake County) wants to remove all the dams in the Potter Valley Project so that the salmon can have a run of the river without needing to use fish ladders. In other words: return the river to its original pristine condition. This sounds great. However, the river in its original condition occurred when there were very few people in the area.
Currently, 31,000 people are direct users of the water from Lake Mendocino through the Russian River. 500,000 people are indirectly affected. Removal of dams also decreases fire suppression, water security and questionable ecological results.