ECA Newsletter 4-4-19
Nope-I did not spell it wrong.
I have tried to think of another issue that can affect more people than “volition” and I cannot think of any. Before you send the padded truck with the nice men in white to get me and take me to the nice place, consider this:
Because of “volition” on the part of some fish, there is a strong possibility that Lake Pillsbury could cease to exist in a few short years.
Because of “volition”, the water diverted from the Eel River through the Cape Horn Dam and tunnel to Potter Valley and on to the Russian River that was built in 1908, might stop being diverted. If that happened, Lake Mendocino would be severely impacted and so would the Potter Valley farmers as well as the Alexander Valley wine growers. Sonoma County Water Agency estimates that without the diverted water, Lake Mendocino would go dry in 60 of the next 100 years.
Because of “volition”, the water supply of Healdsburg, Cloverdale, Hopland, and Ukiah could be severely impacted. Cloverdale, Hopland and Ukiah get 100% of their water from “underflow” of the upper Russian River. Healdsburg gets 80% of theirs from the same source. If the water stops going through the diversion tunnel at Cape Horn Dam and into Potter Valley, those cities will have to develop other water sources because it is likely summer flows will not sustain the “underflow” those Cities need now.
Okay, maybe John’s not certifiable yet, but we still do not know what “volition” even means.
A small power plant provided electrical power to the City of Ukiah in 1900. It was costly and not able to provide enough power to a growing City of Ukiah. The original power plant needed to be replaced. To view some of the history, click on this link—
San Francisco native ww Van Arsdale helped create the Eel River Power and Irrigation Company that later morphed into the Snow Mountain Water and Power Company. Van Arsdale was smart enough to recognize and know that the Eel River was 475 feet higher than the Northern point of Potter Valley (which are also the origins of the Russian River, but the Russian did not have enough water or “fall” to power the hydroelectric turbines he needed). All Van Arsdale had to do was build a dam on the Eel River and blast an 8’ diameter tunnel through a mile of bedrock mountain to get some of the Eel River water to “fall” the 475 feet and spin the turbines to be installed in Potter Valley to the south Van Arsdale had his plan.
In 1900, the project started and a small concrete and earth filled dam was built that held back the Eel River flow, and more importantly, diverted it into two streams: the main one being a “North flowing Eel River” and into a much flow split off and sent south through “at grade” pipe and a new tunnel that brought the water to a small powerhouse in Potter Valley. The 475-foot elevation difference between the Eel at Van Arsdale Dam and the head of the Potter Valley, allowed the energy needed to spin two turbines that produced 2,000 kilovolt amperes of power that started being produced in 1908. After flowing through the turbines, the diverted Eel River water combined with the headwaters of the Russian River and flowed south.
Things worked great except the Eel River tended to dry up in the hot summer months and not enough water flowed through the power plant and tunnel to keep the turbines running and producing power. A second dam was constructed 12 miles upriver called the Scotts Dam and it held back the water that then created Lake Pillsbury. Problem Solved! By controlling the flow out of the Scotts Dam, the operators of the Snow Mountain Water and Power Company could regulate the flow all summer that sent water through the pipes and diversion tunnel to the south to turn the turbines and supply the Ukiah need for power.
The added benefit of the diverted Eel River water quickly became obvious to landowners in Potter Valley. The summer months dried up the Russian River in their valley but the diverted flow from Lake Pillsbury and the Eel River through the tunnel made it possible to farm and ranch the once very dry Potter Valley area. And so, they did!
The system worked well enough (other than some downstream flooding) for several decades. To alleviate the flooding, the Army Corps of Engineers decided to “make it better” and built Coyote Dam in 1959 which in turn created Lake Mendocino. Now the lower stretches of the Russian River had ample summer flow and some control over flooding that enabled the Alexander Valley to become one of the finest wine growing regions in the world.
And now for the problem: The Eel river that flowed north out of the Van Arsdale Dam, was one of the finest fisheries in the world due to salmon and steelhead being able to enter the river from the Pacific Ocean at Fortuna, and make their way all the way up through the Van Arsdale fish ladder to spawn in the perfect environment of the Eel River watershed. But the Scotts Dam was built with no fish ladder, so the fish hit a “dead end”. The fishery probably would have been just fine if not for the massive cannery that was built along the Eel that needed lots of netted fish to operate. And the sports fishing also went nuts and overfished the river too. Much of the salmon and steelhead were fished out from the 1920’s to the 1960’s.
What did not help the fishery was when a financier named Hurwitz (and Milken via Maxxam) bought the Scotia Lumber Company with junk bonds and in order to fund his purchase, he decided to go crazy and cut down the old-growth redwood trees on the tributaries with little or no regard to the Eel River below. In the process, he ruined many of the fish spawning streams and creeks that the Eel River needed for their salmon and steelhead spawning grounds. The “perfect storm” of overfishing and over cutting of the forests fed the environmental movement and lots of attention was focused on preserving what was left of the Eel River fishery (a great documentary can be viewed called “A Rivers Last Chance” by Shane Anderson on streaming video).
PG & E took over the power plant and ran it for decades. PG & E filed bankruptcy in 2019 and the renewal of the FERC power license became very much in doubt. To read about that impact, click here
As it stands now, Jared Huffman and some very influential environmental groups would like to remove the Scotts Dam and restore the Eel River to a more natural state. At a recent Town Hall Meeting in Ukiah, Huffman talked about his respect for new Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and his support of the New Green Deal, which would lead one to believe that Jared Huffman would probably lean towards taking down the Scotts Dam and stopping the traditional diversion of water from the Eel to the Russian River. Although not Huffman’s call to make that decision, he wields some influence.
Admittedly, this is complex, and uncertain as to the outcome of both Lake Pillsbury and the Eel River diversion water that is much needed to sustain the Russian River flows that Sonoma County, Marin County, and Mendo County all need to meet their water needs. The main concern is one of the fish-they cannot get past the Scotts Dam so there is a need for a $90 million (very uncertain!) fish ladder to be built, or an estimated $71 million to take Scotts Dam down. Either way, it is likely whatever gets decided will revolve around allowing fish to get past Scotts Dam.
I asked the question: why not just leave Scotts Dam in place and pick up the pregnant fish at the Van Arsdale fish ladder (easy choke point) and transport them above Scotts Dam into the tributaries up there? PG & E did a nice study on this method that you can read here–
The answer is “that won’t work” because the fish’s volition will be compromised. The fish, according to the “powers that be” say the fish need to make their own choices as to where to spawn. Maybe that is right as they instinctively know how to go from the Pacific Ocean to their spawning grounds. I do not know. I like wild and scenic rivers too, but I also recognize that a lot of people depend on the water that flows from the Eel to the Russian. Maybe it is ok for the fish to make their own determinations to get to the fish ladder at the Van Arsdale Dam and get picked up and taken to above the Scotts Dam to spawn? Maybe. That is my suggestion.
There you have it folks. Is it absurd? The fish need a choice. The fish need to have “volition”. For them to get “volition”, people are going to be hurt. That I can assure you.
And you thought I was nuts?
That’s All Folks