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The Potter Valley Project: Mendo v. Humboldt

(Two Views)

What Does Humboldt County Truly See as a 2-Basin Solution for the Potter Valley Project?

by Devon Jones, Executive Director of the Mendocino County Farm Bureau 

Recently the Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission (MCIWPC), Sonoma Water and California Trout, Inc. moved forward with a planning agreement for the potential licensing of the Potter Valley Project to meet the deadline of filing the Notice of Intent and Pre-Application Document for the Project by July 1st as required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. These entities, though not always in agreement, are prepared to work through these differences and have honest conversations about addressing both fishery and water supply concerns as part of a two-basin solution for the future of the Project. 

Now, Humboldt County is crying that they weren’t adequately involved in the conversation with the development of the planning agreement. Interestingly enough, Humboldt County has at every opportunity, starting with their resolution statement on the Project released in June 2018, that they believe that the decommissioning and full or partial removal of the Potter Valley Project is inevitable. Craig Tucker, the consultant hired by Humboldt County to represent their county on this issue, has not been shy about supporting the removal of Scott Dam as the ONLY solution to the future of the Project. This shouldn’t be surprising since Mr. Tucker was also hired as an advocate in the Klamath dam removal project and we all know the results of that effort. 

In addition, HumCo Supervisor Estelle Fennel, who is the current chair of the Eel-Russian River Commission and represents Humboldt County, was notified by California Trout, Inc. that they planned to work with MCIWPC to move forward with the Project licensing process and a two-basin solution at the March 29, 2019 commission meeting. It was also stated that the conversation was open to additional interested parties. Since both Supervisor Fennel and Mr. Tucker were in attendance at this meeting, Humboldt County was adequately represented and could have made an effort to engage with either California Trout, Inc. or MCIWPC on the formation of the planning agreement. 

For those of us looking to maintain the critical water supply for the fish, farms and families that depend on the water provided from the Project, looking ONLY at dam removal is a non-starter. 

If Humboldt County is willing to address their previous position statements and truly look for a two-basin solution that supports both the fishery and water supply, then there can be a conversation. However, don’t play the same song for over a year and then expect all of us to believe you are sincere with changing your tune! 

How About Us? Asks Humboldt

by Daniel Mintz

A new planning agreement between parties interested in the up-for-grabs Potter Valley Project (PVP) blindsided Humboldt County supervisors but they’ve been told that the pact will be inclusive.

Reassurance was offered after an apparent end run around Humboldt’s interest in Eel River preservation was described by staff at the May 21 Board of Supervisors meeting.

With PG&E signaling abandonment of the PVP hydroelectric facility, its federal license is up for the taking. The week before the meeting, it was revealed that the Mendocino Inland Water and Power Commission, the Sonoma County Water Agency and CalTrout were forging a “draft planning agreement” on noticing federal licensors of their combined interest in applying.

“We were taken by surprise,” said Supervisor Estelle Fennell, explaining that a Sonoma County supervisor told her that “they couldn’t tell us of their intentions” because doing so would violate the Brown Act. Sonoma, Mendocino and Humboldt county representatives are members of the Eel-Russian River Commission (ERRC), which is subject to the Brown Act. The law limits communications between officials prior to decision-making. The bureaucracy shaping the PVP’s fate has many layers and another one is Congressman Jared Huffman’s regional ad hoc committee. That group met the day before the supervisors meeting and the Humboldt-excluded planning agreement was discussed.

“There’s good news to report – they’re welcoming Humboldt to become a signatory to that agreement,” said HumCo Deputy Director of Public Works Hank Seemann.

He said the planning pact “defines how the parties will work together” on a Notice of Intent to apply for the license. That move has a July 1 deadline, with a completed application due in April of 2020.

Huffman’s ad hoc group has developed a “two basin solution charter,” said Craig Tucker, the county’s lobbyist in the process. The “co-equal goals” of the charter will be worked into the planning agreement, he continued. “So I think that reflects the Eel River side of the equation really well,” he told supervisors. He added that there’s mutual understanding that “we all need to work with each other to have our needs addressed.”

The needs are often portrayed as being in conflict. Humboldt County wants to preserve the Eel River and Mendocino and Sonoma counties want to continue accessing its water.

The Potter Valley Project is marginal as a power production facility and its more relevant purpose is to divert water.

Asked by Fennell about CalTrout’s involvement, Tucker said the advocacy group is “doing a pretty good job of bringing a lot of resources to the table and a lot of studies that inform the discussion.”

Seemann said the planning agreement is still in the works and a modified version may be finished and ready for review as soon as this week. Noting that the southern counties’ interests are “tied to (water) diversion” and “our interest is tied to the resources of the river,” Fennell said Humboldt should “be more active at this point and more engaged.”

She recommended that a board subcommittee composed of herself and Board Chair Rex Bohn be formed to eye what happens next. Fennell is the county’s representative on the ERRC and Bohn is the alternate rep. He’s disappointed by the planning agreement’s surprise emergence.

“The last place we would want to hear that an agreement had been brought forward was on social media,” he said. “I just felt like we were really, really left out of this.”

Those excluded complained “loudly and vociferously” at Huffman’s meeting the day before – and Huffman himself was “not particularly pleased with the way it played out,” said Tucker.

“But I would say all’s well that ends well – they were receptive to us amending the agreement,” he continued. “I realize everything’s amicable now but this isn’t the first time Humboldt’s been screwed,” said Bohn. “And every time we catch somebody, they say, ‘Oh yeah, we’re going to make it work for you’ and it just didn’t feel right.”

Last year, the Friends of the Eel River advocacy group accused Fennell of conspiring with representatives of the other counties. During public comment, Stephanie Tidwell, the group’s executive director, said “secrecy seems to be kind of the norm,” but this time she described “Russian River interests” as the culprits and said she agrees with the supervisors.

HumCo Supervisors voted to form the subcommittee and directed staff to return to this week’s meeting, on May 28, with a proposal for Humboldt County’s participation in the federal Notice of Intent process.


  1. George Dorner June 5, 2019

    This article would make a heck of a lot more sense if somebody somewhere would explain the two basin system. What is it? How does it affect the dam? Is whatever it is even legal, or doable?

    An article about an unexplained concept is pretty useless.

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