Hi Friends,

You may have already seen the big news this month, that Friends of the Eel River and our allies at California Trout, Trout Unlimited, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Alliances, and the Institute for Fisheries Resources all filed suit against FERC for violating the Endangered Species Act. FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is responsible for, among other things, regulating hydropower across the nation. This litigation is just the first step in holding both FERC and PG&E accountable for limiting harms to endangered species pending dam removal. We are asking the court to modify the annual license FERC issued to PG&E in April 2022 to include protective measures and comply with the Endangered Species Act.  See below for more details and other Potter Valley Project updates, or click here to read our press release.

Our summer outreach intern has been doing fabulous work, including writing this excellent blog that outlines the many problems with the longest fish ladder in the state at Cape Horn Dam. Of course, we've been talking about all this and more on the EcoNews Report. Our episode from August 6 covers the latest news on the Potter Valley Project license surrender, as well as the demise of the coal train threat and a watchful note about Mendocino Railway's real intentions in expanding rail development. 

Speaking of Mendocino Railway, it's worth noting that state agencies have been taking aim at this shifty entity recently. The California Coastal Commission issued this letter citing Mendocino Railway for unpermitted development in the coastal zone. The California Public Utilities Commission also chimed in just last week to clarify that Mendocino Railway is not a public utility, and that the CPUC has authority to access the Skunk Train property in order to conduct safety assessments. We share the concerns of activists in Fort Bragg and state regulators, and continue to keep a watchful eye on Mendocino Railway.

We've also been busy catching up with folks at meetings and events around the watershed over the summer. You can help us by volunteering for our last tabling event of the season, the North Country Fair in Arcata on September 16 and 17. See below for more info.

Finally, the Salmonid Restoration Federation is hosting their Coho Confab in the South Fork Eel this year, September 9 - 11. See below for details

For the fish, 

Alicia Hamann
Potter Valley Project Updates

Action from FERC and PG&E seems to come in quick bursts – a lot has happened over the past two months. Before diving into that, I wanted to share the exciting news that this week FOER and our allies filed suit against FERC for violating the Endangered Species Act. When the federal agency issued an annual license to PG&E to continue operations of the Potter Valley Project pending its decommissioning, FERC failed to add new license conditions necessary to protect Eel River steelhead and Chinook salmon listed under the ESA. Our simple request is that FERC listen to the fisheries experts at the National Marine Fisheries Service and require PG&E to protect Eel River fish. Read our press release here.

License Surrender Update
As we mentioned in our previous newsletter, PG&E has announced their proposed schedule for license surrender. This 30-month “plan to make a plan” is another example of PG&E choosing to prolong the status quo rather than moving urgently to cease harms to Eel River fisheries. FOER, along with a wide variety of allies, submitted comments to FERC suggesting a shortened surrender process and requesting clarity on stakeholder outreach plans.  

Flow Variance Update 
In other PVP news, way back in May PG&E requested yet another flow variance at the Potter Valley Project. Variances are exceptions granted by FERC from the license-mandated flow schedule for the PVP, which allow PG&E to reduce the amount of Eel River water diverted out of basin to the Russian River. While some are granted for construction or similar issues, FERC has granted PG&E variances nearly every year in the last decade because there has not been enough water in the Eel River to meet all of the flows required by the FERC schedule. The project is not operating sustainably.
However, this May’s variance request was different. PG&E asked FERC that it be allowed to reduce diversions from the Eel to the Russian Rivers to maintain at least 30,000 acre feet through mid-September in the Lake Pillsbury reservoir behind Scott Dam. This is a key change in PVP operations that National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) biologists have sought in order to maintain a cold water pool that can be used to keep river temperatures below the dams lower for the benefit of Eel River salmonids.
We were happy to see this shift in priority and submitted comments urging FERC to authorize this variance as soon as possible. Acting swiftly was necessary, as NMFS experts at emphasized, because the longer PG&E continued diverting 75 cfs out of the basin, the less likely they’d be able to maintain that cold water pool. Unfortunately, it took FERC over 2 months to approve the variance. Depending on the weather over the next month, we may barely have the water necessary to keep temperatures below 19 degrees Celsius (roughly the point at which other species like pikeminnow begin outcompeting salmonids).

As part of consulting with stakeholders on variances, PG&E holds “Drought Working Group” meetings where they present modeling information and gather feedback from stakeholders including state and federal wildlife agencies, the Round Valley Indian Tribes, and Russian River water users. In their latest meeting, we were disappointed to hear PG&E staff seeking an immediate increase in diversions through the PVP, which had just been reduced to 5 cfs after two months of unreasonably high diversions. As NMFS staff pointed out, the variance is working to keep Eel River temperatures hovering just below a dangerous threshold. Why immediately risk that benefit?

Responding to National Marine Fisheries Service 
And finally last month we told you all about PG&E’s response to the March letter from NMFS which outlines how the company is committing unauthorized “take” of legally protected salmon and steelhead and suggests eight measures to enhance protection. This month FERC took their turn responding to the fisheries experts. Notably the Commission said they are evaluating whether to reopen PG&E’s license to add amendments suggested by NMFS, and requested clarity from the agency on a number of the proposed amendments within 60 days. Stay tuned folks!
Sifting Through the Studies:
Eel River Dams and Fish Passage
Cape Horn Dam and Van Arsdale Reservoir contribute to the take of threatened and endangered salmonids. The Cape Horn Dam fish ladder is the highest and longest in the state and is a well-known site of fish mortality, which migrating salmonids struggle to navigate for several reasons. First, the fish ladder and fish hotel, a structure at the base of the fish ladder that aims to help fish find and climb the ladder with proper attraction flows, often fill up with gravel and debris after high water events. This obstruction eliminates all the benefits the fish ladder provides for upstream migration, making it much harder for fish to travel past the dam.

Read more here.
EcoNews Report:
Big Doings on the Beautiful Eel River

On this week’s EcoNews Report, Scott and Alicia from Friends of the Eel River join Gang Green to talk about dam removal and FERC license surrender. Also, the coal train is officially dead! Let’s take a moment to celebrate that big victory.

Click here to listen to the episode. 

And click here for a collection of podcast and radio episodes about the Eel River.
WHAT: Volunteer in our booth at the North Country Fair. Help us raise awareness about our work and sell merchandise.
WHEN: Saturday and Sunday, September 17 &18. Volunteer shifts between 11am - 5pm
WHERE: Arcata Plaza
Salmonid Restoration Federation's Coho Confab

WHAT: 24th Annual Coho Confab
WHEN: September 9 -11, 2022
WHERE: Rangjung Yeshe Gomde Buddhist Retreat Center, 66000 Drive Thru Tree Rd 95585 Leggett, CA

The Coho Confab is a field symposium to learn about watershed restoration and techniques to restore and recover coho salmon populations. The Confab provides an ideal opportunity to network with other fish-centric people and to participate in field tours that highlight innovative salmon restoration practices. This year, SRF is collaborating with several groups to produce this educational event including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Cal Trout, NOAA Fisheries, Stillwater Sciences, Eel River Watershed Improvement Group, Trout Unlimited, Pacific Watershed Associates, and other restoration partners.

In this newsletter:

- Potter Valley Project update

- Fish Passage Blog

- Econews Report: Eel River Update

- Volunteer Sign-up: North Country Fair

- SRF's Coho Confab in South Fork Eel
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