Eureka, California – A coalition of environmental and fisheries groups has informed Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) that its two outdated dams on the Eel River violate federal endangered species law by harming salmon and rainbow trout federally protected rainbows.
The five groups – Friends of the Eel River, California Trout, Trout Unlimited, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and Institute for Fisheries Resources – sent a letter required by endangered species law to PG&E last week. The legal notice states that the dams and diversion of the Potter Valley project caused the catch of chinook salmon and rainbow trout, and that to the extent PG&E had federal permits to harm the species listed, this coverage expired on April 14.
Alicia Hamann, executive director of Friends of the Eel River, said the groups plan to take the utility to federal court seeking protection for salmon and rainbow trout injured by Project Potter. Valley from PG&E. “A century after the Scott Dam blocked the passage to the upper reaches of the Eel River, PG&E’s license to operate the Potter Valley project has expired. The Eel River dams must now be removed,” Hamann said. “Until the dams are removed, PG&E must operate the Potter Valley Project to minimize impacts to critically endangered Chinook Salmon and Rainbow Trout.”
Scientists estimate that historically the Eel River has seen 800,000 Chinook return in good years, but today only around 3,000 Chinook return. Vivian Helliwell of the Fisheries Resources Institute, a fishing industry group, highlighted the impact of low salmon numbers in the Eel River on fishing vessels working on the Pacific coast. “The fishing industry hasn’t blocked off salmon habitat upstream like PG&E has,” Helliwell said, “but the massive losses of salmon from the Eel River have been devastating to coastal communities dependent on the sin. Helping Eel River salmon recover will help restore lost jobs and income for our fishing families.
Charlie Schneider of Trout Unlimited noted that for the past 20 years, PG&E has operated the Potter Valley project under restrictions set by federal fisheries biologists to protect Eel River fisheries. “The National Marine Fisheries Service is clear that the permit ended last week. Now the agency has concluded not only that those safeguards were inadequate, but that the Potter Valley project is negatively impacting salmon and rainbow trout in ways the agency never has. authorized. Eel is one of the best opportunities for wild salmon recovery in California, until they remove their dams PG&E needs to do more to reduce their impacts on fish than business as usual.
While some Russian River agricultural interests have complained about the prospect of removing the Eel River dam, California Trout’s Darren Mierau says, “Our studies have clearly shown that dam removal is what it is better for the health of the Eel River and there are technical solutions that could provide diversions of the Eel River to Russia without dams. Whether Russian River interests want to invest in a safe and resilient 21st century water supply is ultimately up to them. Either way, it’s time for Eel River salmon and rainbow trout to get the protection they need.