Day in the Life: Kerri McLean, River Restoration Program


Kerri Mclean ground work photo

Most of the time I use the law to protect rivers, but sometimes I get to get on the ground to help remove dams!

The best part about being a professional dam buster is that it requires all sorts of skills, from project management, to collaboration and negotiation, to overseeing regulatory compliance. But at heart I am an attorney, and I most often find myself using legal levers to protect our rivers.

Federal, state, and local laws help our cause in myriad ways. I navigate the laws to obtain permits for individual dam removals, a necessary step before any shovels are put to work. I use the Endangered Species Act and the public trust doctrine to challenge existing dams and other barriers that have out lived their usefulness and are injuring protected salmonids. I use NEPA and California’s analogous CEQA laws to ensure that government actions, such as dam permitting, are only approved after their environmental impacts are properly considered and mitigated. And of course there is always the opportunity to pass new laws that will further streamline the dam removal process and incentivize dam owners to address obsolete diversions.

This is a typical day in the life of a California Dam Buster:

9:00 AM: Research and analyze permitting requirements for temporary dewatering activities at Searsville Dam, a 65 foot dam on San Francisquito Creek owned by Stanford University.

10:30 AM: Edit and comment on a proposed permitting compliance plan for Searsville.

1:00 PM: Shift gears and focus on other barriers in the San Francisquito watershed. Draft provisional landowner access agreements so that American Rivers staff can investigate 3 barrier culverts on tributaries to San Francisquito Creek.

2:00 PM: Take a break from the computer screen and get out into the field! Survey the lower sections of San Francisquito Creek, near its outlet into San Francisco Bay, including existing floodplain and channel conditions.

4:00 PM: Develop a legal strategy with outside counsel for implementation of the Fish and Aquatic Habitat Collaborative Effort (“FAHCE”) settlement agreement to restore flows and remove barriers on the Guadalupe River, Stevens Creek, and Coyote Creek.

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