Dam removal on the Eel River is closer than ever after county water agencies and a tribal government announced a last-minute conceptual plan for how a trans-basin water diversion from the Eel River to the Russian River watershed might be continued after the Pacific Gas & Electric Company removes two century-old dams on the upper Eel River.
The proposal was submitted to PG&E last week by the Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission, the Round Valley Indian Tribes, and the Sonoma County Water Agency, in response to the company’s announcement earlier this year that it intends to remove Scott and Cape Horn dams as part of its draft plan for decommissioning the Potter Valley Project, which stopped producing electricity in 2021. The dams block native salmon and steelhead from reaching prime habitat in the headwaters of the Eel, and restoring upstream and downstream fish passage past the dam sites is a high priority for federal and state fisheries agencies as well as conservationists.
PG&E has said they will submit a draft decommissioning plan to federal regulators by November of this year. In May, the company left the door open for entities interested in taking ownership of any part of the project’s facilities – including the inter-basin diversion infrastructure – and asked that proposals be submitted by the end of July. A final license surrender and decommissioning plan is due in early 2025.
California Trout and Trout Unlimited reacted to the announcement with cautious optimism. “This proposal represents progress on broader discussions between Russian River and Eel River stakeholders—two dams being removed, PG&E paying their fair share as they exit the basin, and Russian River water interests paying for water and water infrastructure associated with a diversion of Eel River water,” said CalTrout Executive Director Curtis Knight. “We will continue to engage in a collaborative and inclusive process to work out the details and address deficiencies in this proposal.”