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Russian River

Water Forum

The Russian River Water Forum Summary of Interview Findings

This Summary of Interview Findings document presents overarching themes and key perspectives from interviews Kearns & West conducted with a broad cross-section of parties with an interest in Pacific Gas & Electric Company’s Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project (PVP) and/or water supply or associated resources in the Russian River and Eel River basins.  For more than 100 years, the diversion of water from the Eel River to the Russian River via the PVP has provided an important source of water for the Russian River basin.

PG&E plans to decommission the PVP, which could reduce or eliminate this water source. The Russian River Water Forum (Water Forum) is a new collaborative process initiated by Sonoma Water and a collection of regional partners, including IWPC, with funding from a California Department of Water Resources grant. The Water Forum aims to preserve the flow of water from the Eel River via the PVP into the Russian River while also fostering collaboration to support water supply resiliency in the Russian River watershed. Kearns & West has been engaged to help establish and facilitate the Water Forum through an inclusive, transparent process.  The interviews for this report represent an initial step in that process, and the findings will help inform the governance structure and engagement approach of the Water Forum.  This document summarizes key views on the diversion from the Eel River and the Water Forum, including challenges to overcome, keys to success, and elements of potential solutions.

To review the interview results, click the link below:

RRWF_Interview_Findings_final 1.2023
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What are the biggest challenges to maintain the transfer of Potter Valley Project water into the Russian River?


 Water Supply Challenges
  • Without PVP water transfers to the Russian River:
    • In 8 out of 10 years there will not be enough water supply in Lake Mendocino to meet all the needs of businesses, cities, residents, and wildlife that depend on the Russian
    • In 2 out of these 8 water-short years, there is predicted to be a 30,000-acre foot shortage of water in the Russian River, and Lake Mendocino is predicted to go dry
  • Water users that rely on Lake Mendocino for their water supply will be impacted to varying degrees depending on their location and water use.
  • Farther reaching economic and environmental impacts are also anticipated in Mendocino and Sonoma counties with the loss of PVP
Current Infrastructure Challenges
  • PG&E has delayed the decision regarding the transformer replacement at the PVP until April 2023.  See letter from PG&E:
  • PG&E revealed in late October 2021 that an electric transformer necessary for the operation of the powerhouse had degraded to a point that it was at risk of failing. Preliminary estimates indicate an expected timeline of 18 to 24 months to design, manufacturer, and install, with a cost in the $5 to $10 million range.
  • In February 2022, it was announced that PG&E has, “concluded it is beneficial to PG&E’s electric generation customers to proceed with the work necessary to return the powerhouse to full operational status.” No specific timelines for the repairs were presented, but overall, this is positive news.
  • Until the transformer unit is repaired, PG&E is not able to run water through the powerhouse to make power and has only been bypassing the minimum amount of water as required by their license for the East Fork Russian River and the Potter Valley Irrigation District.
  • The reduced diversion has impacted, and will continue to impact, the water storage levels in Lake Mendocino.
Future Funding Challenges
  • A broad-based funding program will be needed to support the ongoing operation of the PVP to preserve the benefits that PVP water provides to the economies and environment of the Russian River
  • “Bridge Fund” estimates are being researched to determine the level of funding needed to support IWPC’s efforts to engage in the FERC license surrender process, negotiations with PG&E and the feasibility study to raise Coyote Valley Dam.
Licensing Challenges
  • On April 21, 2022, FERC provided a notice stating that PG&E has been authorized to continue to operate the Project under a year-to-year license or until the issuance of a new license for the project or other disposition under the Federal Power Act, whichever comes first.
  • On May 11, 2022, FERC submitted a response to PG&E requesting a license surrender plan to be submitted within 60 days.
  • The timeline for the year-to-year operation is currently unknown as are the details of the license surrender plan. The Mendocino County Inland Water & Power Commission will continue to engage with PG&E and other stakeholders as the process moves forward.