Huffman Statement on PG&E Plan to Remove Eel River Dams, Ensure Water Supply

Representative Huffman has convened stakeholders to reach a Two-Basin Solution

November 17, 2023

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Representative Jared Huffman (CA-02) released a statement praising Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) initial draft plan to remove two dams on the Eel River. The plan also sets the stage for negotiating a new diversion from the Eel to the Russian river.

“PG&E’s draft surrender application is a major step forward to achieving the Two-Basin Solution I’ve advocated for years. The plan includes full and expedited removal of two dams that harm salmon on the Eel River while allowing for a modern fish-friendly diversion to provide water to Mendocino, Sonoma, and Marin counties. I’ll be working to ensure that both elements are completed in a way that best protects communities, tribes, and natural resources in the Eel and Russian river watersheds,” said Rep. Huffman.

Congressman Huffman has played an active role in this matter, having facilitated initial discussions to create a Two-Basin Solution for the project and establishing the Potter Valley Project Ad Hoc Committee in 2018 when they learned that PG&E was surrendering the license. The committee, made up of a wide range of tribes, stakeholders, agencies, local governments, and PG&E, formed the basis for negotiations surrounding dam removal and water supply in the two watersheds.

Additional Details of PG&E’s Plan

The utility must provide a plan to federal regulators as part of the license surrender process triggered by PG&E’s decision to divest from the financially inviable Project, which has not generated power since 2021. PG&E must submit a final Draft License Surrender Application (LSA) and Decommissioning Plan to federal regulators in May, 2024, and a Final LSA in January, 2025.

PG&E’s draft also includes, as an alternative for evaluation, a revised framework proposal from a regional group to negotiate terms for a new diversion facility that could support ongoing limited water diversions into the Russian River watershed after removing the dams, provided such diversions are consistent with the full recovery of the Eel River ecosystem to self-sustaining, harvestable populations.

Potter Valley Project Background

The Potter Valley Project includes two Eel River dams, a diversion tunnel that moves water out of the Eel River watershed and into the East Branch of the Russian River, and a powerhouse. The Project’s owner, PG&E, has allowed its license for the operation to expire and is currently working with federal regulators to develop a license surrender and decommissioning plan for the facilities.

Located on the Eel River 20 miles northeast of Ukiah, Scott and Cape Horn Dam are over 100 years old. Equipment failures in 2021 caused Project owner PG&E to permanently suspend hydropower operations. Water storage levels in Lake Pillsbury, the reservoir created by Scott Dam, have been reduced by more than 25% due to increased seismic safety concerns with the dam. Scott Dam completely blocks fish passage to high-quality cold-water habitat in the Eel River headwaters. The smaller Cape Horn diversion dam has a faulty fish ladder that needs to be revised to meet current environmental standards.

Removing the Eel River dams would make the Eel California’s longest free-flowing river and reconnect salmon and steelhead with almost 300 miles of cold-water habitat.

Tribes, conservation and commercial fishing groups have long advocated for a free-flowing Eel River. In 2023, American Rivers named the Eel one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers, citing the Potter Valley Project dams as major factors driving Chinook salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey toward extinction.