Aletho News


State mandated “green” energy devastates ecosystem

Until recent decades the Eel river ran clear and cool throughout California’s five month dry season and offered world renowned sport fishing. This swimming hole, cold, large and beautiful lies above the area called Bloody Rock (What the white man did in this watershed is memorialized in the naming of places). These waters are being diverted into a different watershed leaving the lower river only a trickle. – Photo source link

Conservation group challenges PG&E, seeks more water for Eel River

By John Driscoll – The Times-Standard – 03/04/2010

A conservation group is looking to the state to significantly cut back on the diversion of Eel River water to the Russian River in what it says is a last-ditch effort to save crashing salmon and steelhead runs.

The damage to Eel River fisheries is hardly worth the tiny amount of electrical power produced by the Potter Valley Project owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co., according to Friends of the Eel River’s recent filing with the State Water Resources Control Board. The group wants the state to modify the utility’s water rights, because they allow an “unreasonable use of water.”

The Friends say that a 15-percent reduction in the diversion — ordered by the National Marine Fisheries Service in 2002 as part of PG&E’s license requirements through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — has done nothing to stop the decline of protected coho and chinook salmon and steelhead populations. But NMFS has also concluded that flows in the much smaller Russian River, boosted by water from the Eel, are too high to support salmon and steelhead there.

”Given the (Potter Valley Project’s) toll on threatened and endangered fish in the Eel and Russian rivers,” the petition reads, “and the relatively small amount of electricity it produces, the water rights for the project must be modified in order to protect the public trust resources and prevent the unreasonable use of water.”

The Potter Valley Project was started in 1908 with the building of Cape Horn Diversion Dam, which created Van Arsdale Reservoir, tunnels and a powerhouse. Scott Dam was built about a decade later, creating Lake Pillsbury. The project generates 9.4 megawatts by diverting water in Van Arsdale Reservoir through the powerhouse at the start of the East Branch of the Russian River. A typical commercial windmill produces about 2 mw.

Cities, farms and vineyards in Sonoma, Mendocino and Marin counties rely in part on diversions from the Eel River to the Russian River, mixed with releases from Lake Sonoma and Lake Mendocino, but they have no clear right to Eel River water released through the project. That water right belongs to PG&E, and is up for renewal in 2022.

Sonoma County supervisors in September withdrew a long-studied project to take more water from the Russian River, citing poor economic and shifting environmental conditions. City officials from Santa Rosa and Marin County criticized the decision, which they claimed would sacrifice water rights and impede growth.

The Friends’ petition said that the Russian River should be a self-contained water system, and can be supported by other sources without the diversion of billions of gallons from the Eel River each year. A weighing of various water uses should be undertaken, the petition reads.

Friends Executive Director Nadananda said that time is of the essence, as salmon and steelhead runs are at very low levels, having declined from about 500,000 fish prior to the project to only 15,000 today.

”The river is in really serious trouble,” Nadananda said.

A reduction in the diversion would reduce the amount of power PG&E can generate, and would likely make the project uneconomical, she said.

PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno said that the company has not fully reviewed the petition, but said that the project is operated under strict guidelines developed through the federal relicensing process.

”It is inevitable that different stakeholders have different views,” Moreno said.

He said the hydropower project helps meet state demands for clean, renewable power that is available during peak demand, unlike solar and wind projects.

Spokeswoman Ann DuBay of the Sonoma County Water Agency, which provides water to about 600,000 residents in Sonoma, Mendocino and Marin counties, said only that the agency’s attorneys are reviewing the petition.

Alderon Laird with the Association of California Water Agencies — and board member of the Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District — said that any third party can challenge another’s water right in California. The state water board must decide whether to entertain a petition, he said, and it’s possible that could trigger a process to determine the needs of a particular watershed.

Recently passed state law prompted the state water board to begin a “needs assessment” for the massive Sacramento River delta project, Laird said. That is supposed to determine how much water is needed in the delta region for various uses before any water can be exported outside the delta, he said.

”If that’s the philosophy of the state board … it kind of sets a precedent for anywhere else in California,” Laird said.

John Driscoll covers natural resources/industry. He can be reached at 441-0504 or


The actual diversion tunnel, looking ever so sinister as the machine that turns fish into fertilizer for the Potter Valley farmers delivered on tap. We call Potter Valley fish emulsion green for good reason. It is only in recent years that PG&E was forced to put in screens to stop the fish from entering the tunnel and turbines. Originally eels by the thousands interfered with the turbines so they were electrocuted and hauled away in hay wagons.

Note the shades of yellow and green that identify algae that is a plague to this system. It is hard to believe so lovely a river could change so much and have so much algae in such a short period of time.

Cumulative impact of all diversions, little water and lots of algae dramatically impact California’s third largest river system.

This photo of logging on steep slopes tells the tail of why the Eel River has moved from one of the most pristine rivers in the world, as written up in a 1940’s sportsman magazine, to now carrying a silt tonnage fifteen times greater than the Mississippi. This is our top soil washing off the slopes, filling the river.This area was held together by redwoods with their root network and ability to turn fog into drip contributing water at the end of the long dry summer.
Down river from the confluence with the South Fork Eel. Lots of silt and not enough water to move it. This is what the 90% diversion of headwaters looks like in the summer and fall before the rains. Not enough water for a fish to run on.
Algae abounds even in the fog cooled lower river near Scotia.

Friends of the Eel River

March 7, 2010 - Posted by | Environmentalism


  1. A good story and convincing that this little hydro plant is probably causing a lot more harm than any good it is doing.

    But blaming “renewable energy” mandates for a facility built in 1908 is a bit much. Really, the title is a smear and detracts from the story.

    It’s totally true that “renewable energy” doesn’t distinguish between nasty dirty activities such as biomass burning, and relatively desirable sources such as wind and solar. Much “green” energy is brown and stinks. I’ve written about this myself quite a bit.

    But it seems to me you have an off-balance anti-“environmentalism” agenda.



    Comment by Alan Muller | March 7, 2010

  2. Alan,

    The project “was started in 1908”. However the diversions were much smaller until the 1990’s. The Eel river’s summer flow was much higher until recent years. I would need to do further research to confirm this but my recollection is that prior to the recent years, diversion may have occurred only or primarily during the rainy season.

    Of course to have value as a component of the power supply an energy source must provide power during peak consumption periods, those fall during the summer air conditioning months.

    In any event, as the article makes clear, the current rationale for the continued destruction of this ecosystem (which was healthy until recently) is “green” energy. Their claim, not mine. Exposing the anti-environmental imperatives of those that use “green” dogma as cover does not itself constitute anti-environmentalism but rather defense of environmentalism.

    “Green” energy proposals should face as rigorous of an environmental review as any traditional energy source. Anything less is would suggest ulterior motives. In this particular case the motive may have to do with real estate development in Sonoma county, again this would require further research to confirm.


    Comment by aletho | March 8, 2010

  3. Alan,

    By the way, I remember a time when environmentalists decried dams as the destroyers of ecosystems that they are. We seem to have lost track of what environmentalism even is because of the present fanaticism about CO2.

    There it is, hydro-power may be cheap and renewable (until they silt up behind the dam) but it is definitely not ecological.

    This might be a good test issue, those who define hydro as “green” are the anti-environmentalists.


    Comment by aletho | March 8, 2010

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