POTTER VALLEY, CA, 3/29/23 — Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)’s decision to leave the spillway gates open at Scott Dam this spring and in the future due to increased risk of seismic activity in the area may put the utility out of compliance with its license to operate the Potter Valley Project, according to a letter from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to PG&E’s president on Tuesday. In the letter, FERC Director of Hydropower Administration and Compliance CarLisa Linton notified PG&E that the utility could violate its mandates to protect federally endangered species by reducing water storage in Lake Pillsbury so significantly (around 10 feet).
She said the utility must complete an amendment application detailing any environmental impacts of the decision, outlining planned mitigation or avoidance measures, and demonstrating consultation with relevant agencies and tribes. FERC specifically asked to see correspondence with federal and state resource agencies including the National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as “interested” non-governmental organizations and tribes — plus responses received from said entities, and PG&E’s response to that input.
“Pending approval of an amendment application, you are required to maintain compliance with your existing license, as amended,” Linton wrote.
Scott Dam spillway gates normally close as early as April, and FERC’s letter could impact PG&E’s approach to managing the water resource this year. Linton indicated that FERC plans to thoroughly review the amendment’s potential impacts.
“We anticipate that, before acting on any such amendment request, the Commission would have to prepare an analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act and complete ESA consultation,” she wrote. If formal ESA consultation is necessary, that process can be lengthy.
Should it be approved, PG&E’s plan to keep the spillway gates open in spring indefinitely would carry a big impact for the Russian River watershed, relied on by many in inland Mendocino County. When the news broke in mid-March, it accelerated existing concerns around water access as PG&E moves forward with developing a license surrender and decommissioning plan for the Potter Valley Project.
“What’s being created is perpetual drought circumstances,” 3rd District Supervisor John Haschak said of the open gates in supervisors’ reports at Tuesday’s meetings. 1st District Supervisor and Board Chair Glenn McGourty pointed out that the decision makes it exponentially more necessary for Russian River water users to find alternatives for the Eel River diversions they rely on, including raising Coyote Valley Dam and pursuing water storage infrastructure in Potter Valley.
In a message to The Mendocino Voice prior to Tuesday’s letter, PG&E spokesperson Paul Moreno said that the utility has hired a consultant as part of its early decommissioning and license surrender planning schedule.
“We do intend to reach out to stakeholders,” he wrote.
Learn more about the Potter Valley Project’s current phase here, and read the letter from FERC below. The Voice will continue to update on the operation of Scott Dam as more information is known.20230328-3009_P-77-000_letter