The Current Magazine Fall 2016 - Page 18

RESTORATION

The Potter Valley Project:

Letting science guide the way

The Eel River, which originates in Lake and Mendocino Counties and flows through Humboldt County to the ocean, supports spawning populations of fall run Chinook salmon, summer and winter run steelhead, and coho salmon.

Fish populations here are severely depressed. The Eel represents perhaps the greatest opportunity to restore a watershed to its former abundance of wild salmonids.

The Potter Valley hydropower project on the Eel River, owned by PG&E, consists of two dams – Scott and Cape Horn, a reservoir, and a diversion tunnel that sends water south to the Russian River watershed. The Scott Dam, which creates Lake Pillsbury and blocks 288 square miles of watershed, is the largest barrier to native salmonid habitat in the Eel watershed and likely the entire north coast.

The FERC hydropower license for this project expires in 2022, and PG&E is required to file notice to begin the relicensing process in 2017. This process presents a unique opportunity for CalTrout and other conservation organizations to steer the future of the Eel River toward robust fisheries and a healthy watershed. CalTrout has taken a leadership role in the Eel River, establishing the Eel River Forum.