Discussion on Diversion of Eel River Water to the Russian River

Dear folks:

It seems that the task at hand for the Russian River watershed is the complex answer to a simple but vital core question:

How would you manage the Russian River for sustainable health and restoration without any Eel River inflows?

I’d really like to see the thinking heading in this direction, rather than hanging on to the concerns and fears about how much damage or impacts might occur if the Eel River inflows are cut.  It’s not “if“, but “when“.  The earlier that we can put our heads together to sort out the answers to this question, the better the results will be for the fish and the stakeholders.

Shall we put together a working meeting to start hashing out the issues, opportunities, problems and directions?
What is easy to do? what appears intractable?  what is critical? what is not so important? what do various time lines look like? what would have to change in order to address the ‘intractable’ issues? what are the politics? science? economics? law?  These will not be easy answers, but it’s way past time to get to them.

Thank you all for staying involved in these important decisions and planning efforts, and for the generosity of your time and heart.

David Keller
Bay Area Director, Friends of the Eel River

After reading responses to my message on my take on restoring Eel River flows, I am a bit taken aback.

My take on the Russian was not that it needed less flows. It was that the Eel need some of its water back to survive as a viable fish producing river. Flows in the Russian have been riding on the back of the Eel – while Russian River activists have done little with the concept of correcting effects of illegal diversion.

I thought we were about protecting and recovering uses on all rivers – not just the one in “my” backyard. If that were all we had to do, I could quit right now. The Garcia is mostly done.

This AB 2121 policy is important.  We need to have minimum flows protected in all rivers.  Not just this one or that one.

Yet I can not get buy in from those who profess to care about the Russian, Gualala, Navarro, Albion, Big, Noyo, Ten Mile, Mattole (and later to probably State policy – for all rivers).

I am trying to raise money for professional comment and barely have commitment for $300.   This is very sad.   We need to get on this right away.


This statement below is part true and partly wrong and
oversimplifies the issues of past flows on the Russian. The Russian did not have  
connected surface flow all summer into fall. It did have up to 25ft
of gravel now mined away and in the valley's meandered through oxbows,  
backwater sloughs etc and in these areas and in deep holes in
mainstem there was water all summer through fall. It is very likely the
Russian had large quantity of water flowing through the gravel that is now  
gone from both upstream flows and groundwater flowing underground  
towards the river from the hills - now that's all sucked up by the  
grapes and rural residences.
Any thinking that historic habitat can be recreated by lowering
flows is misguided as we have lost over 90% of functional riparian areas  
that used to support fish and provided great rearing areas along
the mainstem, there could be benefits to reducing flows but all the  
habitat modifications have to be accounted for as well.
Food for thought. Has SCWC taken a position on D1610 petition yet?
We will be protesting until science in estuary and temp issues in
upper river are fully addressed.

After thinking on what was said in the meeting last night - and also after being aware of these issues now for about 16 years - please consider these thoughts as related to Russian and Eel River flows issues,

As David pointed out – for about 100 years now substantial Eel River flows have been diverted to the Russian River – via Potter Valley and Lake Mendocio.
Those in Mendocino County and Sonoma County have benefited from the use of that water – including urban, agricultural, and recreational interests.
The Russian did not naturally flow strong all summer and into the fall.

All of this diversion has turned out to be a huge detriment to the functioning of the Eel River and its fishery.
If you are about saving salmon – this fact should be huge on your horizion.

While all of this was going on there have been huge changes in land use in Mendocino County and Sonoma County.
Ag (pears, grapes, etc) is almost totally dependent on this water – much of which comes from the Eel.
Ag (grapes)  is also responsible for over a thousand non-permitted diversions and upslope groundwater wells that are uCAG sing Russian River Water.

I see no justification (other than keeping Ag happy) for maintaining such high diversion rates from the Eel (why should the Eel support Sonoma County Ag?)

In part my view is based on the fact that if all those illegal users had to conserve, change their habits, and give some water back to the Russian – replacing (or placing ) Eel River water back to where it belongs would not be so onerous.

I see little effort in that direction.

We need to do a good job on AB 2121.  I do my best – but we need professional comment.