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Supervisors Fight for Lake Pillsbury in FERC Feasibility Study Response

Lake County, CA (June 26, 2020) — Construction of Scott Dam, which created Lake County’s Lake Pillsbury, was completed nearly a century ago, in 1922.  Over that time, communities and an entire ecosystem have developed.  450 homeowners and ranchers and an estimated 3,000 non-permanent seasonal residents contribute to both the economy and culture of this unique Northern California community.

The area surrounding Lake Pillsbury has become a home, a beloved home away from home, and a favorite vacation destination for many in our region.

Scott Dam is also home to the long-PG&E-owned hydroelectric Potter Valley Project.  Since PG&E formally announced their intention to put the project up for auction May 10, 2018, an Ad Hoc Committee led by Congressman Jared Huffman has worked to promote a “Two-Basin Solution” that envisions decommissioning Scott Dam. Proponents expect this will restore salmonid populations and water flow in the Eel River, while maintaining water supplies in nearby Mendocino County and the Russian and Eel Rivers.

As an outgrowth of the work of the Committee, Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission, Sonoma County Water Agency, California Trout, Inc., the County of Humboldt, and Round Valley Indian Tribes (collectively, the “NOI Parties”) initiated Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Proceedings (FERC, Project No. 77-285) toward a Licensing Proposal for the Potter Valley Project. 

The County of Lake initially sought to be a part of this group, to assure Lake County’s priorities were well considered.  Despite Lake Pillsbury sitting within our boundaries, we were denied the opportunity to have a meaningful seat at the table. 

The “Proposed Goals and Principles for a Two-Basin Solution” that initially guided Huffman’s Committee included, “Minimize and mitigate adverse impacts to Lake County, including Lake Pillsbury businesses and residents.” 

The NOI Parties have not committed to this objective.  On or about May 13, 2020, they filed a Feasibility Report that unsurprisingly supported removal of Scott Dam and the destruction of Lake Pillsbury and the way of life of the vibrant community that surrounds it.

“The Feasibility Study blatantly ignored potentially catastrophic effects this would have on the thousands of people meaningfully connected to Lake Pillsbury, and the economic and environmental resiliency of all of Lake County,” notes District 3 Supervisor, Eddie Crandell.  “Remember, Lake Pillsbury was an important water source in fighting the Mendocino Complex wildfires.  What devastation might have occurred, had Scott Dam been decommissioned prior to 2018?” 

“The utter lack of regard shown for the people that would be affected by the NOI Entities’ proposal is deeply disturbing,” continues Crandell.  “And there is no clear indication the parties even intend to gather sufficient public input to mitigate potential issues; the Lake Pillsbury Alliance has tried again and again to be heard, yet there has been no meaningful response.”

This week, Crandell’s concern was translated into meaningful action to challenge the findings of the Feasibility Report, and demand consideration of Lake County’s interests.

On Thursday, the County filed a scathing analysis on behalf of the Board of Supervisors, concluding, “No matter how laudable a two-basin solution is to the NOI Parties, no such solution should be seriously considered until… proper analysis [is] completed to ensure this solution does not come at the sole and considerable enduring expense of the County of Lake,” noting “Much more information relevant to those negative impacts must still be obtained.” 

The response likewise called for resolution in five additional areas of concern:
• Public Interest considerations, such as the impact to local wells due to the destruction of the dam, are ignored and/or minimized. 
• Existing information on the feasibility study proposal insufficiently demonstrates how more water and safer passage will be provided to support salmonid populations
• Licensing requirements have to address ability to respond to wildfires and preserve forest values
• General insufficiency renders the proposed Study methodology inconsistent with generally accepted scientific principles
• The County of Lake is generally ignored in considerations of effort and cost, and proposed alternative studies will not meet stated information needs.

“If this project moves forward as proposed, who will suffer the most?” asks Crandell.  “Lake County will endure the destruction of Scott Dam.  Lake County will lose Lake Pillsbury, and see the rich ecosystem that surrounds it torn apart.  Will the NOI parties suffer?  No!  There are many other ways to ensure fish passage, and provide environmental benefits to communities along the Russian and Eel Rivers and those that live near Lake Pillsbury, most at a fraction of the cost.  Were those seriously considered?  No!”

“With all we’ve endured since 2015, and now COVID-19 threatening the financial stability of every level of government, it is unreasonable, on its face, to put forward a tremendously expensive project that would unsettle the wildfire resiliency and further threaten the economy of one of the poorest Counties in the United States,” emphasizes Crandell.  “The NOI Parties have to slow down, listen to the people whose lives and livelihoods they are proposing to upset, and take a more considered approach.  Lake County will not stand by and allow our residents to suffer.  We will fight for a just outcome.”

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COVID-19 Death

The exact circumstances are still being investigated, but this person became ill at home, was transported by ambulance, and died in the Emergency Department; they later tested positive for COVID-19.

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