Pressure Mounts on Stanford University to Consider Removing Searsville Dam to Restore Steelhead Trout and San Francisquito Creek

3,000 Comment Letters on Proposed Conservation Plan

July 21st, 2010

Matt Stoecker, Beyond Searsville Dam, (650) 380-2965
Jeff Miller, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 499-9185
Steve Rothert, American Rivers, (530) 277-0448

Palo Alto, Calif.— A growing coalition of conservation groups, leading scientists, Stanford alumni and Bay Area residents are pressuring Stanford University to consider removing Searsville Dam, an obsolete structure that has blocked steelhead migration in the San Francisquito Creek watershed for more than a century and serves no drinking water supply, flood control or hydropower function. More than 3,000 Bay Area residents and environmental groups sent comment letters to Stanford and regulatory agencies this month advocating for studies to remove the dam and objecting to a proposed “conservation plan” that would continue the dam’s damaging ecological effects.

Stanford is currently pursuing a Habitat Conservation Plan, under the Endangered Species Act, which will give the institution a 50-year federal permit to harm and kill endangered species during future development plans and operations on the more than 8,000-acre Stanford campus. The environmental analysis for the conservation plan omits the impacts of the dam, which limits and degrades habitat for steelhead trout and other endangered species. Stanford proposes to maintain the dam and dredge the reservoir, preventing steelhead from spawning upstream of the dam. The dam also alters downstream habitat and water quality in San Francisquito Creek and harbors invasive species.

“Stanford’s habitat plan should be a multi-objective project in collaboration with local stakeholders that evaluates dam removal, enhances natural flood protection, ensures sustainable water supply and promotes watershed restoration,” said Matt Stoecker, chairman of the Beyond Searsville Dam Coalition. “The historic wetlands, riparian forest and gorge submerged by the dam, within Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, offer one of the most important dam-removal and ecosystem-restoration opportunities in the country.”

“Stanford has a golden opportunity to restore a major portion of one of the best remaining streams for steelhead in the San Francisco Bay Area — while at the same time enjoying community and regulatory support and limiting its liability,” said Jeff Miller, a conservation advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity.

“This harmful, obsolete dam has no place on the campus of one of our nation’s foremost universities. Removing the dam and restoring the creek will position Stanford as a leader in environmental restoration and stewardship, and would help the university achieve its stated goal of sustainability,” said Steve Rothert, California director of American Rivers.

For more information or to comment on the plan go to www.BeyondSearsvilleDam.org.

Background

Buried beneath the sediment behind Searsville Dam, built 120 years ago on a tributary to San Francisquito Creek, is a unique confluence valley where six streams once flowed for miles, merging among wetland ponds and riparian forests before squeezing through a small gorge where the dam now stands. Removing the dam or providing another form of fish passage would give steelhead access to more than 18 miles of historic spawning and rearing habitat above the dam, where ancestral rainbow trout persist but are now isolated. Removing the structure would restore other endangered species habitats, revive submerged wetlands, and could provide natural flood-protection benefits for the watershed.

The National Marine Fisheries Service advised Stanford in 2008 to collaborate with interested parties to restore fish passage at Searsville Dam. However, Stanford’s conservation plan has no such agreement, and the federal government has ignored its own recommendation. Federal wildlife agencies are set to approve a severely flawed 50-year Habitat Conservation Plan for Stanford that will perpetuate the status quo at the dam, prevent steelhead restoration and continue to degrade the watershed and regional ecosystem. The plan would allow for the “incidental take” (harming, degrading habitat and killing) of imperiled species such as steelhead trout, California red-legged frog, San Francisco garter snake, California tiger salamander and western pond turtle.

Stanford is not up to date on all safety inspections of the dam and the dam could put downstream communities at risk in the event of a large earthquake. Conservation groups have asked Stanford to ensure that any dam-removal plan includes flood protection benefits to downstream communities.

More than two dozen Bay Area conservation and fishing groups have joined the Beyond Searsville Dam coalition and requested that Stanford evaluate and consider removal of Searsville Dam. The coalition includes Acterra, Alameda Creek Alliance, American Rivers, California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, California Trout, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Ecosystem Restoration, Earth Island Institute, Environmental Cleanup Coalition, Flycasters of San Jose, Friends of the River, Golden West Women Flyfishers, Guadalupe-Coyote Resource Conservation District, International Rivers, Matilija Coalition, Mission Peak Fly Anglers, Northern California Council Federation of Fly Fishers, Once Upon a Watershed, Patagonia, Peninsula Flyfishers, Regional Parks Association, Restore Hetch Hetchy, Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition, Santa Cruz Fly Fisherman, Strawberry Creek Watershed Council, Trout Unlimited, Tuolumne River Trust and Vegetation Management Project Committee.

Beyond Searsville Dam is a coalition of over two dozen organizations and hundreds of individuals supporting actions to evaluate and consider removal of Stanford University’s Searsville Dam in a manner that is beneficial to protecting creekside communities and watershed health.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 255,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

American Rivers is a national conservation organization that protects and restores America’s rivers for the benefit of people, wildlife and nature.


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American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

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