Two-Basin Partnership asks for pause in Potter Valley Project process

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Ukiah Daily Journal, 9/9/2021

Group requests more time to evaluate their options for the hydroelectric plant

A group that formed two years ago to explore a new future for the Potter Valley Project, which is a hydroelectric plant in Mendocino County that diverts water from the Eel River and into the Russian River via Lake Mendocino, is requesting more time from federal regulators to study their options and the ramifications of each.

“The Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission, Sonoma County Water Agency, California Trout, Inc., the County of Humboldt, and the Round Valley Indian Tribes hereby request that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission grant an abeyance in the schedule established by the Revised Process Plan and Schedule for relicensing the Potter Valley Project … until May 31, 2022,” states a letter to FERC Secretary Kimberly Bose dated Sept. 2, 2021. “(We) will use this abeyance to further evaluate how this project would best fit into a comprehensive strategy to manage worsening crises in anadromous fisheries and water supply reliability in the Eel and Russian River Basins.”

The parties that make up the Two-Basin Partnership explain that “in January of 2019, Pacific Gas and Electric Company stated its intent not to seek a new license (for the plant.) That June, parties filed a Notice of Intent and began to pursue relicensing of the plant to implement a Two-Basin Solution. Since that time, the NOI Parties have not been able to secure the funds to undertake studies per the Study Plan Determination, at estimated cost of $18 million for two years. In May, PG&E declined to fund such work.”

The group asking for more time state that, “during this period ending May 31, 2022, the NOI Parties will undertake due diligence tasks that will further evaluate how to meet the goals of the Two-Basin Solution, (and that) the State of California’s Fiscal Year 2021-2022 budget includes approximately $2.7 million for studies related to the Two-Basin Solution. Such funds are necessary to begin implementing the Study Plan Determination, as well as undertaking the due diligence related to ownership costs and risks.”

The group also explains that it “will evaluate the feasibility of continued diversion for water supply in a license surrender scenario. In that scenario, a Regional Entity would own and operate a diversion facility at Van Arsdale, under authority of state law. Through the proposed further due diligence, we will determine whether PG&E’s water rights would reliably support continued diversion for water supply once license surrender were effective.”

The group adds that it understands time is of the essence given the state’s severe drought, as “the fisheries in the Eel River Basin are in poor to perilous condition. This threatens the interests of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, other tribes, Humboldt County, and commercial and private fishermen. In turn, water supply in the upper Russian Basin is at a low point unprecedented in living memory. Lake Mendocino may run dry for the first time since construction in 1958. Climate change is a key driver for these worsening crises. In all of these respects, time is of the essence to resolve the future of this project, and the NOI Parties are committed to expediting all of the work streams described in this letter.”

“Our request to federal regulators is simple,” Curtis Knight, executive director of CalTrout, is quoted as saying in a press release. “Taking over operations of the Potter Valley Project and updating the facilities will be expensive and complicated, and we need more time to figure out the details.”