Stanford University Under Investigation for Possible Endangered Species Act Violations

Searsville Dam is degrading wildlife habitat downstream

Searsville Dam is degrading wildlife habitat downstream | Matt Stoecker

The National Marine Fisheries Service has launched an investigation into whether Stanford University’s operation of Searsville Dam has violated the Endangered Species Act by harming steelhead trout and other species threatened with extinction.

Located on the Stanford campus in Palo Alto, CA, the dam blocks steelhead from migrating to 20 miles of spawning habitat upstream, it dewaters Corte Madera Creek below the dam, degrades water quality and habitat downstream and causes other negative impacts that harm species threatened with extinction.

Stanford states its dam is not subject to state or federal laws that protect fish and wildlife, as currently operated. American Rivers disagrees, and we welcome NMFS’s investigation. This investigation punctuates a decade of missed opportunities by Stanford. If the university had been a leader and innovator in its own backyard, the way it can be in any number of academic fields, they wouldn’t be in this mess. 

They can’t say we didn’t offer to help. For over a decade, American Rivers, members of the Beyond Searsville Dam coalition and others have tried to work collaboratively with Stanford University to address the problems caused by their dam.  We even convinced the CA Department of Water Resources to offer funding to investigate options to deal with the dam’s environmental liabilities.  But Stanford ultimately rebuffed these efforts.

Stanford has begun what it calls the Searsville Dam Alternatives Study, an internal process evaluating options for the dam’s future.  The threat of an enforcement action against the university for ESA violations, which could include penalties, should motivate Stanford to complete its study process by the end of 2013, as promised.

The Searsville Dam in Palo Alto, CA offers no fish passage

The Searsville Dam in Palo Alto, CA offers no fish passage | Matt Stoecker