Members of a recently formed legal entity that hopes to continue diverting water from the Eel River to the Russian River after the Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project is decommissioned are celebrating the recent awarding of federal funds designed to help their efforts.
In a press release this week, the office of Rep Jared Huffman (D – San Rafael) announced that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation awarded a “$2 million grant to Sonoma County Water Agency meant to study a diversion from the Eel River to the Russian River that will have the least possible impact on salmon and steelhead.”
The crucial funding for this study comes from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which Huffman notes he helped write, adding that he also “personally advocated for this grant, which is a part of the Bureau of Reclamation’s WaterSMART program to support the study, design and construction of collaboratively developed ecosystem restoration projects that provide widespread regional benefits and improve the health of fisheries, wildlife and aquatic habitat through restoration and improved fish passage.”
“Now that PG&E has decided to remove (Scott Dam and Cape Horn Dam), these federal funds will set us up to develop the Two-Basin Solution I have been encouraging for years,” Huffman is quoted as saying in the release. “In the face of compounding climate change impacts, dam removal and a modern diversion for water will help protect salmon and steelhead while ensuring a dependable water supply.”
“Funding for this design work represents a major milestone in the progress toward a true regional solution for the Potter Valley Project,” said James Gore, a member of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, which is one of three entities that make up the recently formed Eel-Russian Project Authority along with the Mendocino County Inland Water & Power Commission and the Round Valley Indian Tribes.
Having those groups form a Joint Exercise of Powers Agreement, MCIWPC chair Janet Pauli explained, was “at the request of Pacific Gas and Electric,” in order to have a legal entity that will have the power to negotiate with the utility as it moves ahead with plans to surrender operations of the hydroelectric plant.
In its draft surrender proposal published earlier this year, PG&E notes that “the Regional Entity, a joint power authority … will be responsible for modifications at the former Cape Horn Dam site and Van Arsdale Diversion, as necessary, to construct the New Eel-Russian Facility.”
“The yet-to-be designed facility would allow for ongoing water diversions through the Potter Valley Project’s tunnel between the Eel River and Russian River, while allowing for upstream and downstream fish migration to support larger efforts aimed at achieving naturally reproducing, self-sustaining and harvestable native anadromous fish populations,” was how the new passage was first described by the group, and Pauli said that two main options are still being considered: one involving a roughened channel and the other a pumping station.
“The Round Valley Indian Tribes are grateful that this funding is being provided to advance implementation of the Two Basin Solution, and we thank Rep. Huffman for his leadership on these issues,” President Lewis Whipple of the Round Valley Indian Tribes is quoted as saying in Huffman’s release.
PG&E is set to release a final draft surrender application in June 2024, with the final application expected to be submitted by Jan. 29, 2025.