past + present
The Potter Valley Project (Project) serves as a trans-basin water diversion (water transfer) project between the Eel River Watershed and the Russian River Watershed. It was built between 1905 and 1922 to generate hydroelectric power. It began operation in 1908 with the completion of the Cape Horn Dam and was completed in 1922 when Scott Dam was built, forming Lake Pillsbury, to provide year round water for the Potter Valley Project hydroelectric powerhouse.
The Project diverts approximately 64,000 acre feet of water each year from the Eel River through a tunnel to Potter Valley to generate power. The annual diversion represents less than 2% of the total Eel River Watershed.
After generating power, the water that is not used by the Potter Valley Irrigation District and other water rights holders flows down the East Fork of the Russian River into Lake Mendocino where it is stored and used to provide water supply for multiple beneficiaries along the Russian River in Mendocino and Sonoma Counties, and North Marin County.
PG&E took over the Project in 1933 and has run it ever since under a license issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). On January 25, 2019 PG&E withdrew from the FERC-required relicensing effort, essentially “orphaning” the Project. Now the future licensing or sale is in FERC’s hands.
On March 1, 2019 FERC put out a Notice Soliciting Applications with additional information about the Potter Valley Project and next steps. Any party interested in filing a license application for a new license must first file a Notice of Intent (NOI) and a Pre-application Document (PAD). Applicants have 120 days from the date of the notice to file the required documents.
On Tuesday May 14, 2019 the Boards of Supervisors in both Mendocino and Sonoma Counties approved the Planning Agreement to Undertake Feasibility Study of a Potential Licensing Proposal for the Potter Valley Project. On May 20, 2019 Congressman Huffman’s Ad Hoc Committee recommended edits and modifications to the Planning Agreement to better align it with its two-basin solution goals while retaining objectives that were important to the signatories. On June 18, 2019 the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors approved actions to enter into an Amended Planning Agreement.
The Amended Planning Agreement contains a set of principles (Shared Objectives) ensuring that any new license application for the Project will advance the mutual goals of the “Two-Basin Solution,” including: (1) minimizing or avoiding adverse impacts to water supply reliability, fisheries, water quality, and recreation in both basins; (2) improving fish passage and habitat on the Eel River sufficient to support recovery of native anadromous fish populations, including passage at existing dam locations; (3) reliance on best available science and engineering analyses to evaluate options for restoration, water delivery, and hydroelectric generation under a new license; (4) collaboration on funding; (5) active participation of tribes and other stakeholders supportive of the Shared Objectives; (6) economic welfare of both basins; (7) continued hydroelectric generation; and (8) protecting tribal cultural, economic, and other interests in both basins.
On June 28, 2019 Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission (MCIWPC), the Sonoma County Water Agency/Sonoma Water, California Trout, Inc., and the County of Humboldt (together NOI Parties) filed a NOI to file an application for a new license for the Potter Valley Project, acting as proxies for a new regional entity that will be the license applicant for the Project. Under the Amended Planning Agreement, the NOI Parties will work together to prepare a Feasibility Study for the Project that will promote the Shared Objectives.
Additional partners are expected to join in the Amended Planning Agreement shortly. On August 20, 2019 the County of Lake unanimously approved a Revised Resolution and agreed to identify the financial resources necessary to enter into the agreement.
The NOI Parties must complete their preliminary licensing proposal (PLP) or draft license application (DLA) by November 15, 2021, allowing participants 90 days to file comments.
PG&E must run the Project until the license expires April 14, 2022 or until there is a satisfactory resolve of the Project’s status.