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Photograph by Michael Amsler

Looks are deceiving: The Russian River--bucolic but in bad shape.

Eel River Diversions

By Janet Wells

Over objections from environmentalists, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, and National Marine Fisheries, the Sonoma County Water Agency has been maneuvering to control the Potter Valley Project and protect the diversions that bolster Russian River supplies. In 1999, the Marin Municipal Water District board was going to write a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission encouraging a reduction in the diversions--until SCWA general manager Randy Poole threatened to cut off the district's purchase of 8,300 acre feet of agency water annually--about one quarter of the supply for the district's 230,000 users.

"The general manager pointed to a clause in the contract that he said gave him the authority to terminate us if we disagreed with the party line on the Eel River," says MMWD board member Jared Huffman, who voted to send the letter anyway, but lost on a 3-2 vote.

Parched Marin County "is in a position where we have to kind of hold our nose and take a little of Sonoma County's water, but the people of Marin have made it clear that they want to take as little as possible," says Huffman, who is an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It's because the Russian River is in really bad shape, and so's the Eel River."

Last year, Poole signed an agreement with PG&E that would give the water agency first right of refusal to buy the Potter Valley Project. Friends of the Eel River's Fall 2000 newsletter called the agreement "a political backroom maneuver to circumvent public process and commit an outright water grab."

While California's power crisis pole-axed the agency's purchase deal with PG&E--the state Legislature recently put a five-year moratorium on the transfer of any hydroelectric asset--the energy shortage may have helped the agency's quest for Eel River water in other ways.

"The battle is over how much of the water diversion should be returned to the Eel," says Johanna Thomas, regional managing director for the Environmental Defense Fund in Oakland. "In order to maximize hydroelectric power, there's very much a concern that there could be pressure from the [Bush] administration or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to abandon the flow recommendations or to postpone their implementation."

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From the April 5-11, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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