The Scott Dam May Be Coming Down, But Questions Remain

Caroline Griffith

The Scott Dam is one step closer to coming down, allowing Eel River salmon passage to upstream habitat for the first time in a century. The Dam is part of the Potter Valley Project (PVP), a hydroelectric project on the Eel River that was first licensed in 1908. Consisting of two dams, a mile-long water diversion tunnel and a hydroelectric plant with a 9.4mw capacity, the PVP has been controversial for years. Not only does the Scott Dam block river access for federally listed salmon species, but the project also stores winter run-off from the Eel River basin and diverts an average of 65,000 acre-feet of water to the Russian River basin.

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Current owner, PG&E, announced in January 2019 that it would not seek relicensing from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), citing economic concerns. Now, a coalition of five stakeholders from Eel River and Russian River communities called the Two-Basin partnership has filed a Feasibility Report with FERC outlining a proposal to take over the PVP and remove the Scott Dam.

Conservation groups, including NEC member-group Friends of the Eel River (FOER), have been working towards this end for decades, but that doesn’t mean they are all in for this particular project. For Alicia Hamann, Executive Director of FOER, many questions still remain, including questions of who would be included in the regional entity with authority to run the project, and who will be paying for aspects of the project that don’t fall under FERC jurisdiction, including a proposed pipeline that would pump water from Lake Mendocino Reservoir to the Potter Valley Irrigation District.

Friends of the Eel River stated in a press release that it “must consider the plan outlined today not as the only hope of Eel River dam removal, but as one possible path to that goal. The question is whether it offers Eel River fisheries a better, faster and more equitable resolution than FERC’s Decommissioning process would.”