TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is Dam Decommissioning?
This is the process of declaring a dam and/or hydroelectric facility inefficient, unsafe, and/or an environmental disaster, and proceeding to tear down the dam structure and restore the silted-in watershed. This is happening on both coasts of the U.S. where inefficient or useless dams have been declared pointless barriers to salmon migration, and efforts are presently underway to return these rivers to a natural state. Even major inland dams like Hetch-Hetchy in the Sierra Nevada and Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado are the subject of serious discussions about dam removal and river restoration.
Although well-placed dams can have many benefits, such as flood control and water storage, even the "best" dams have many detrimental effects on river habitat, wildlife, and ultimately the health of entire river ecosystems. They directly impact aquatic ecosystems by disrupting natural drainage patterns through diversion and blocking of water flows, along with unseasonable releases of water; dams block access to miles of important fish spawning habitat; and the inevitable build-up of sediment behind dams not only degrades habitat and impairs fish reproduction, but it eventually takes up most of a reservoir's storage space. This is one of the unforeseen "down sides" to the great public works of the early twentieth century, and there's no shame in acknowledging that a dam was either a mistake or no longer useful, and acting to "fix what's broken."
Even the American Society of Civil Engineers has asserted that "It may be appropriate to consider retirement options [for dams and hydroelectric facilities] at various project life cycle milestones such as capital investment, relicensing, or transfer of ownership." Both relicensing and transfer of ownership are in the Potter Valley Project's near future.
Dam removal is the best and most long-term solution to addressing the well-documented impacts of the PVP on the Eel River. In addition to negatively affecting salmonid habitat and the economic values of a formerly thriving fishery, the PVP is an outdated, unprofitable hydroelectric operation that makes no economic sense except as a subsidy to a few lucky users of scarce, valuable water (specifically, farmers in Potter Valley, the pro-development Sonoma County Water Agency and new corporate wineries). The resulting inefficiencies penalize the entire local economy. The very act of decommissioning the PVP could turn this public liability into an asset by not only providing jobs during the dam dismantling and river restoration, but by supporting healthier river ecosystems, saner concepts of sustainable water use into the future, and the return of salmon so vital...food for all.