In 1975 the Sonoma County Alliance was founded primarily on making sure Sonoma County had a secure water supply through the establishment of Lake Sonoma as its primary reservoir. The SCA supported the efforts to create Warms Springs Dam and Lake Sonoma.

Once again the SCA has an opportunity to stand up, be counted and advocate for a two-basin watershed solution that is part of the Potter Valley Project that can satisfy our water needs in Sonoma County while also preserving fish habitat for endangered species and improving the economy of Northern California.

Our residents are concerned about the condition of our water supply, how we get our water, how we work with our contractors and manage related wastewater treatment resources. Whether it is a lack of rain before and during fire season, threats from rising sea levels, ground water sustainability, flood control concerns or having enough water for residential and commercial use from the Eel and Russian Rivers, water issues top the list for Sonoma County residents.

This vital topic was revisited at the November 6 Sonoma County Alliance general membership meeting as three panelists provided an update on efforts  acquire and transfer control of the Potter Valley Project to a Joint Powers Authority (JPA), following PG&E’s announcement in January that it would not seek to relicense this project that contains the Scott and Cape Horn Dams, a hydroelectric plant, Lake Pillsbury and the Van Arsdale reservoir diversion system that uses a tunnel to redirect about 90,000 acre-feet of Eel River water to Lake Mendocino and on to the Russian River.

Panelists included Janet Pauli, Chair of the Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission (MCIWPC), a JPA that oversees the Mendocino water supply including the Potter Valley Project (PVP); Grant Davis, general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency, and Curtis Knight, executive director of California Trout, Inc.  These three entitles formed the initial partnership group working on a new PVP plan and were later joined by Humboldt County and other entities.

The road ahead for Sonoma County is not simple. The JPA is one of two basin partners that include both the Eel River and Russian River watersheds. PG&E’s license expires in April 2022, requiring a new license application by April 2020.  Pauli noted that the JPA’s NOI outlined the partner’s intent to develop a feasibility study evaluating options and recommendations in keeping with five basic goals described below:

  • Prepare a description of a regional entity that will be formed and will apply for the new license; (including the original partners – MCIWPA, Sonoma Water and Cal Trout);
  • Prepare a project plan showing proposed capital modifications, as well as operations and maintenance required, to provide the continuing delivery of water and generation of hydroelectric power,
  • Prepare a fisheries restoration plan, with measures to be implemented over the term of the new license,
  • Prepare a proposed study plan detailing additional studies necessary for the development of the new license application, and
  • Prepare a financial plan, including the specific sources of initial funding and subsequent revenues to fund licensing capital improvements, as well as operations and maintenance of the project under a new license.

The withdrawal of PG&E from renewing the license for the Potter Valley Project, including two dams, a hydroelectric power plant and the diversion system bringing Eel River water to the Russian River and into Sonoma County, is a wakeup call for Alliance members.  Each of us can support efforts underway to relicense this project under a regional Joint Powers Authority planning to submit an application next April for the right to operate and maintain these facilities.

I urge every member to look for opportunities to promote the Potter Valley license-renewal project and to point out our critical need for the continuous water supply that it delivers.

Eric Goldschlag, President