May Editorial: Dams are a Damn Good Thing

Written By: Brytann Busick
Published: May 6, 2019

Have we had enough rain yet? It is finally drying out in Sonoma County and I love seeing all the tractors in the fields again. Another month has gone by, so it is probably time to talk about water again. Mother Nature has given over 50” of rain to me this year and well above average for the entire county. I think we would all agree that our goal is to store that excess water to get us by in dry years. With that said, the Eel River and Russian River water systems are under threat these days.

When PG&E stopped managing the Potter Valley Project and withdrew their relicensing application, the company created a void that needs to be filled. Otherwise, Scotts Dam could potentially be decommissioned. Environmentalists and other groups have been advocating to tear down the dam, which has been in place for nearly 100 years, taking away Lake Pillsbury and letting the Eel River go back to wild. What would happen as a result of this? Many farmers and communities in Mendocino, Sonoma and Marin Counties would have their water supply threatened to some degree. Lake Mendocino alone is not enough to keep flows up in the Russian River for years to come. During the summer, cold water releases from Lake Pillsbury helps Chinook Salmon and steelhead and we have seen some of the best fish populations below Scotts Dam because of this. Where would all the sediment behind the dam go? It would be discharged into the Eel and Russian Rivers and have drastic environmental impacts on fish and landowners downstream. Also, on the hot topic of groundwater, it is imperative that the Russian River is kept flowing yearround to help with groundwater recharge. During drought years, portions of the river can get very low and this can compound the TMDL issue in the Lower Russian River, which would have a devastating effect on summer recreation and the local economy. Another issue that is rarely discussed in regards to helping fish in these waterways, is the many fishing ships off the coast in international waters that can net as many salmon as they wish. None of those fish will make it back up the rivers to spawn and they definitely will not make it up to where Scotts Dam currently exists.

In the last 30+ years California’s population has more than tripled and yet we have not built any major water projects to account for this. As a result, there is more groundwater pumping which has resulted in SGMA and subsidence in the Central Valley. A man-made problem in my opinion, but I digress. Where will our future water come from? Sonoma County Farm Bureau has been working with Mendocino County Farm Bureau to help keep the Potter Valley Project in place. I would like to thank Janet Pauli and Devon Jones of MCFB for their hard work in spearheading much of this work. We must maintain these surface water storage projects to help us get through the drought years because we all know they will be back at some point in time.

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