Stanford University Plan to Protect Wildlife Is Inadequate

Public Calls for Searsville Dam Removal Study

September 7th, 2010

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

PALO ALTO, Calif.— The public has sent a powerful message to Stanford University and government agencies that the university plan for protecting endangered species on the 8,000-acre campus doesn’t go far enough and must consider removing Searsville Dam. The comment period closed last week for a proposed Habitat Conservation Plan addressing endangered species impacts over the next 50 years; public comments emphasized the need to analyze the harmful effects of the 120-year-old dam on steelhead trout and other imperiled species.

“We are committed to working with Stanford to address this issue, but at the end of the day the university must bring the dam into compliance with state and federal environmental laws,” said Steve Rothert, California Director for American Rivers. 

“Stanford’s conservation plan inexplicably omits a thorough analysis of the impacts of the diversion dam, which blocks and significantly degrades habitat for endangered species in San Francisquito Creek,” said Matt Stoecker, chairman of the Beyond Searsville Dam Coalition.

“Sooner or later Searsville Dam must come down, and the whole San Francisquito Creek watershed can be treated as the ecological treasure that it is,” said Pete McCloskey, former U.S. Congressman, coauthor of the Endangered Species Act, San Francisquito Creek watershed resident and Stanford University School of Law 1953 alumnus.

“Stanford has one of the most important dam-removal and ecosystem-restoration opportunities in the country, and can position itself as a leader in environmental stewardship and make huge progress in achieving its stated goal of being a more sustainable campus,” said Yvon Chouinard, founder of the clothing company Patagonia and Beyond Searsville Dam supporter. “Stanford has got to clean up their own backyard before people will take their sustainability and environmental message seriously. You are what you do, not what you say.”

“The environmental analysis of Stanford’s plan is clearly legally inadequate; it should address and mitigate all of the dam’s ecological impacts to endangered species covered in the conservation plan,” said Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“What happens with Searsville Dam impacts all of us in the San Francisquito Creek watershed, from the mountains to the Bay and beyond,” said long-time creek advocate Danna Breen. “Stanford must collaborate with its neighbors on this dam issue to ensure community safety and watershed health. This plan doesn’t do that.”

The Conservation Plan acknowledges that the dam is antiquated, hurts San Francisquito Creek, and has not been modified to provide fish passage or downstream flows for wildlife habitat. Top university scientists have stated the need for watershed-wide collaboration to address environmental issues with the dam, but the Conservation Plan and a draft Environmental Impact Statement by federal regulators fail to include analysis of the dam’s impacts on endangered species or public safety. The Conservation Plan has no commitment to migratory fish passage at the dam, contains no downstream bypass water flows, which have been required at their other water diversions, and has not been coordinated with other watershed stakeholders affected by any decision or indecision on the dam.

The Beyond Searsville Dam coalition, Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration, American Rivers, Center for Biological Diversity and the law firm Shute, Mihaly, Weinberg, LLP submitted 79 pages of formal comments this week on the legal and biological inadequacies of the proposed Conservation Plan, and more than 3,000 Bay Area residents, leading scientists and Stanford alumni have sent comments to Stanford and regulatory agencies asking for collaborative studies on dam removal.

Searsville Dam is an obsolete relic that has degraded wildlife habitat and 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. The proposed Conservation Plan would include a 50-year federal permit under the Endangered Species Act to be able to incidentally harm and kill endangered species during future development plans and operations on the Stanford campus. Stanford proposes to maintain the dam and reservoir through an ill-defined dredging program. The Conservation Plan would allow operations that continue to prevent steelhead from spawning upstream of the dam and perpetuate the dam’s damaging ecological effects on downstream habitat and water quality in San Francisquito Creek.

For more information and to read the comment letters go to: www.BeyondSearsvilleDam.org.

Background

Buried beneath the sediment behind Searsville Dam, built 120 years ago on the largest tributary to San Francisquito Creek, is a unique valley where six streams once converged among wetland ponds and riparian forests before squeezing through a small gorge where the dam now stands. Dam removal would allow restoration of this amazing habitat within Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, improve water quality and habitat downstream, potentially provide flood-protection benefits, and restore steelhead to more than 18 miles of historic spawning and rearing habitat above the dam, where ancestral rainbow trout persist, now isolated by the dam.

The National Marine Fisheries Service advised Stanford in 2008 to collaborate with interested parties in the watershed to restore fish passage at Searsville Dam; but Stanford’s Conservation Plan has no such commitment. The federal government has ignored its own recommendation and is considering granting a permit without requiring adequate downstream flows for wildlife, as was required for Stanford’s other two water diversions that were also negatively affecting listed species. Federal wildlife agencies are set to approve a severely flawed plan that will prevent steelhead recovery and harm 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.

More than two dozen Bay Area conservation and fishing groups have joined the Beyond Searsville Dam coalition and requested that Stanford collaborate with its neighbors and evaluate and consider removal of Searsville Dam. Conservation groups have asked Stanford to ensure that any dam-removal plan includes flood protection benefits to downstream communities.

Beyond Searsville Dam is a coalition of more than 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 an 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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