Editor's note: This is a developing story and we will be updating with more information as we continue reporting.
6/27/19 -- A coalition of governments, agencies and a non-profit, including Mendocino County and several Mendocino water districts, have announced that they will be taking the first official steps in taking over the Potter Valley Project (PVP). The project is a series of dams, reservoirs and a hydro-electric plant, that diverts water from the Eel River to the Russian, and is a vital source of water for communities from southern Mendocino to Marin County. Today this coalition announced that they would be filing a "notice of intent" with the Federal Energy Regulator Commission tomorrow, stating that they intend to file a permit for the project. The process of permitting is itself long and can cost several million dollars.
Various stakeholders have been negotiating and collaborating through an ad hoc process set up by Congressman Jared Huffman, the announcement was made this afternoon in a press release sent out jointly by his office and the other agencies. One key part of the plan will be the creation of a regional entity to own and operate the PVP. In a brief interview Mendocino County Supervisor Carre Brown, who also sits on the Ad Hoc, and on the Mendocino Inland Water and Power Commission, explained that such an entity will probably be a "joint powers authority," but that given its size and regional scope such an entity will have to be created by the legislature. She added that State Senator Mike McGuire has already begun working on chartering this entity.
The Potter Valley Project is currently owned and operated by Pacific Gas & Electric, and has been diverting water and generating power since early in the last century. In January of this year PG&E announced that they would not be seeking to re-license the project, which, due to its hydroelectric nature, is regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), not a water agency. In March FERC announced that it had opened up the re-licensing process, and was accepting applications, with a deadline of July 1. This in turn kicked the process of negotiations about what to do about the PVP into high gear at Congressman Huffman's Ad Hoc Committee, where the parties have broadly agreed to seek a "two basin solution," that will serve the interests of communities and the environment both within the Eel River Basin and the Russian River Basin.
The coalition is comprised of a whole hodgepodge of water agencies, and governments, a veritable alphabet soup of water interests on the North coast. The four main members are the County of Humboldt, the environmental non-profit group CalTrout, Sonoma Water, and the Mendocino Inland Water and Power Commission (MIWPC).
The MIWPC is in turn constituted of the County of Mendocino, the City of Ukiah, the Mendocino County Russian River Flood Control District and Water Conservation Improvement District, the Redwood Valley Water District, and the Potter Valley Irrigation District.
Supervisor Brown noted that, “Certainly this is a big step forward for all the parties involved. We look forward to others joining in partnership, including Lake County and the tribes. Mendocino county has an important and key role having both the Eel and Russian river watersheds within their political boundary.”
Read the full press release here:
Broad-Based Partnership Takes Next Step Toward Two-Basin Solution for Eel and Russian Rivers
Conservation group collaborates with public agencies in plan to call for new regional entity that will improve fishery, ensure dependable water supply for Eel and Russian Rivers
Santa Rosa, Calif. – On Friday, June 28th, a diverse partnership between a conservation organization and several public agencies will file a joint Notice of Intent (NOI) with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) stating that they plan to apply for a permit to take over operations of the Potter Valley Project (Project). California Trout (CalTrout), Mendocino Inland Water and Power Commission, Sonoma County Water Agency (Sonoma Water) and the County of Humboldt are working together to set a path forward for the Project that will meet the needs of water users throughout the region while improving conditions for native species in the Eel River watershed. The move comes after PG&E announced in January that it would not seek a new license for continued operation of the Project.
The NOI highlights the goals of the Potter Valley Project ad hoc committee, convened by Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), and includes restoration of fisheries and a dependable supply of water in both the Eel and Russian River basins. One key tenet of the filing is that it includes a plan to create a new regional entity that could assume operations of the Project once a new license is granted.
“I am glad to see this major step toward a broad coalition pursuing a two-basin solution, consistent with the co-equal goals and principles we have developed through my Potter Valley Project ad hoc group,” said Rep. Huffman. “This is the type of multi-stakeholder collaboration that I have been advocating for these past two years, and I remain committed to working with stakeholders in both basins to seize this historic opportunity to modify the Potter Valley Project to provide fish passage and habitat solutions while also ensuring greater certainty and reliability for regional water supplies.”
Since 2018, Congressman Huffman has led an effort to identify a two-basin solution that would dictate future operations of the Project. Rep. Huffman’s effort included forming an ad hoc committee made up of local and regional stakeholders. The NOI that will be filed tomorrow signals a start to the process of filing a joint application to take over operations of the Project under the principles defined through the ad hoc committee’s work.
The Project is a hydroelectric facility that, in addition to generating a small amount of electricity, delivers water from the Eel River basin into the Russian River basin. It is currently owned and operated by PG&E, which announced in January 2019 that it would not seek a new hydroelectric license from FERC for the Project. The main facilities are two dams on the Eel River, a diversion tunnel and a hydroelectric plant.
On March 1, 2019, FERC issued a Notice Soliciting Applications for any party interested in filing an application for a new license for the Project after PG&E declined to apply to renew its license. The deadline for filing an application (NOI) is July 1st, 2019.
Sonoma County Supervisor and Sonoma Water Director James Gore said, “Submitting a Notice of Intent with our Planning Agreement partners on the Potter Valley Project is the best option toward a two-basin solution that ensures water supply reliability, continues and protects critical habitat and fisheries restoration, provides some certainty in the FERC process, and continues the collaborative process given all of the diverse interests in the region.”
The four project partners are working within a Project Planning Agreement which details the funding, studies and legislative action required to move forward with a joint NOI, including:
The Planning Agreement: All four entities have signed onto the Project Planning Agreement.
The Notice of Intent will be conditioned upon the completion of a Feasibility Study, including the creation of a regional entity, which will ultimately become the license applicant. All four entities will contribute $100,000 each toward funding the Feasibility Study. The Planning Agreement does not commit any entity to acquire or hold the license.
“CalTrout is committed to ensuring that future operations of the Potter Valley Project create the conditions under which native Eel River steelhead and salmon can thrive in the context of a two-basin solution,” said California Trout Executive Director Curtis Knight. “The Eel River was once an incredibly productive watershed, and it holds tremendous promise for returning salmon and steelhead to abundance. Our objective is to identify a long-term, sustainable and realistic plan for the future of the Project.”
Janet Pauli, chair of the Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission, said “The Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission is pleased to be a partner with CalTrout, Sonoma Water and Humboldt County in a process that will result in a new license for the Potter Valley Project. Completion of the NOI underscores our commitment to work together to undertake a feasibility study that will outline a licensing proposal. The co-equal goals of securing water supply reliability and comprehensive fishery restoration in both the Eel and Russian Rivers are the driving force behind this unique regional collaboration. I am confident that, by working with our partners, we will succeed in attaining both of these important goals.”
Humboldt County Supervisor Estelle Fennell was similarly pleased. “We believe that we can find a win-win solution where we advance Eel River fisheries restoration to the benefit of Humboldt’s Tribal, sport, and commercial fishermen while being sensitive to the water supply needs of communities in Humboldt as well as our neighbors to the south,” said Supervisor Fennell.
For more information about the Potter Valley Project and Congressman Huffman’s ad hoc committee working toward a two-basin solution, please visit http://pottervalleyproject.org