Board of Supervisors enter into agreement with CalTrout and MIWPC
Last week three local entities — California Trout, Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission (IWPC) and Sonoma Water — announced that they will be signing a project planning agreement with the hopes of looking at pathways to relicense the Potter Valley Project.
The Potter Valley Project is a hydropower project that sits in the middle of the Eel River and Russian River watershed basins and is integral in providing water to both Mendocino County and northern Sonoma County. The project itself refers to an interbasin transfer between the Eel River and Russian River watersheds. Included in the operation are two Eel River dams (Scott Dam and Cape Horn Dam), as well as a powerhouse and water diversion facilities.
In addition to providing fish habitats and power through a powerhouse, the Potter Valley Project also provides water to communities in both Mendocino and Sonoma counties. In Sonoma County, water that’s diverted from the Eel River through Lake Pillsbury provides water to Cloverdale, Geyserville and northern Healdsburg. As such, it also serves as the water source for much of northern Sonoma County’s robust agriculture production.
Earlier this year, PG&E announced it wasn’t going to seek renewal of its hydroelectric license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). As such, parties who are interested in obtaining the license need to file a Notice of Intent and Preliminary Application Document with FERC by July 1.
California Trout, IWPC (a joint powers authority that represents five agencies in Mendocino County) and Sonoma Water have agreed to enter into a planning agreement that will enable them to file with FERC.
According to a press release from Sonoma Water, “the planning agreement will allow this regional coalition to meet FERC’s short timeline.”
The agreement allows the groups to prepare a feasibility study for a possible licensing proposal for the project.
“Even though this is a historic move forward, it’s just the beginning,” Fourth District Supervisor James Gore said during a Sonoma County Board of Supervisors meeting on May 14. “What does it mean? It means that we’re coming forward to present a two-basin solution. The way that a two-basin solution doesn’t become a willy-nilly, say nothing, do nothing element but something real is that we have to put everything on the table, that means that our commitment is to fisheries, water flow reliability, all of it sponsored by the studies that have been done in the ad hoc moving to the FERC relicensing process.”
What’s the solution?
The two-basin solution was proposed by Congressman Jared Huffman around two years ago, when he established an ad hoc committee that devoted itself to addressing the needs of both the fish and wildlife in the area of the project, as well as the needs of those who rely on the project for water. The ad hoc consists of over 25 public, private and government entities that focus on identifying a solution to the project that will meet the needs of both basins involved in the Potter Valley Project.
“I am glad to see this partnership pursue a two-basin solution to protect the region’s water supply and precious fisheries resources,” Huffman said in a statement last week. “This is the type of multi-stakeholder collaboration that I have been advocating for through the ad hoc process we created in 2017. The planning agreement is a framework to develop a 21st Century project that respects the needs of the diverse stakeholders who live in northwestern California.”
IWPC chairperson Janet Pauli said that having California Trout involved will help provide balance to the agreement, since they’re a nonprofit focused on the river and fish passage, working with public entities that have their pulse on the importance of water supply.
“CalTrout is really concerned about the Eel River side of this project … they will be good partners for us,” she said.
Since Huffman’s ad hoc has been looking through the lense of a two-bason solution in regard to the Potter Valley Project for a prolonged amount of time, the entities are able to build on the work that’s been done.
“The process will build on significant work completed to date by members of the ad hoc committee regarding fish passage above Scott Dam and water supply for both Eel and Russian River basins,” California Trout Executive Director Curtis Knight said in a statement.
As part of the planning agreement, each of the three partner entities are contributing $100,000 toward funding a feasibility study.
At the meeting, when asked what happens if, after doing the feasibility study, the numbers come back with a large price tag, Sonoma Water General Manager Grant Davis said that with river systems “this complex and this important,” the price tag likely isn’t small. However, Davis said that conducting a feasibility study would allow the entities involved to get more information about the work that needs to be done in order to look at different options.
While California Trout, IWPC and Sonoma Water are the entities currently signed on to apply for licensing, Pauli said that she believes they will need to look to others to get involved in the project: “If we are going to be able to fund it … we will need funding and so we need to spread the base of dependency as far as we can.”
By July 1, the three entities need to submit a package to FERC that includes a planning agreement, a notice of intent, a pre-application document and a proposed schedule for completing the pre-filing phases of the licensing proceeding.
According to a press release from Sonoma Water, by the time April 14, 2020 rolls around, the group will have a feasibility study that includes identification of a regional entity that will apply for a new FERC license; a project plan that outlines modifications, operations and maintenance requirements; a fisheries restoration plan; an application study plan; and a financial plan that specifies funding a revenue.
PG&E’s current FERC license for the project expires in 2022.
“I have a lot of hope that we can do this, and I think that if we can continue to work together, we can get stronger and stronger,” Pauli said.