Eel River Named Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2023
PG&E must remove obsolete dams to recover California’s flagging salmon runs
Alicia Hamann, email@example.com, 707-382-8859
Charlie Schneider, firstname.lastname@example.org 707-217-0409
Meghan Quinn, email@example.com 530-539-5530
Nikcole Whipple, firstname.lastname@example.org 707-353-0557
Washington — American Rivers today named California’s Eel River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, citing Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E’s) Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project that is driving Chinook salmon, steelhead, and Pacific lamprey toward extinction. With PG&E no longer wanting to operate the facilities and revealing new details regarding the downstream risks presented by a seismically unsound Scott Dam, American Rivers, working with a coalition of regional partners, called on federal regulators to require the company to remove the obsolete dams as part of the decommissioning plan.
“The delay in implementing fish passage solutions and restoration of California’s rivers has critically impacted Pacific salmon fisheries, even closing them for the 2023 season,” said Meghan Quinn of American Rivers. “This decommissioning project is an opportunity to revitalize what was once one of the most productive fisheries in California, benefitting local tribes and communities throughout the Eel River basin.”
The high elevation and cool headwaters of the upper Eel River are critical to the recovery of native fish in an era of climate change. But the Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project’s two obsolete dams, Scott Dam (built in 1922) and Cape Horn Dam (built in 1908), together completely block access to that habitat. The dams also interrupt natural river processes, leading to habitat loss, proliferation of invasive species, and poor water quality in the Eel River watershed.
“It’s well established that healthy rivers contribute to healthy communities,” said Alicia Hamann, Executive Director for Friends of the Eel River, “In the Eel, this also means revitalizing and sustaining culture, supporting diverse economies, and providing endangered species a path to recovery. Removing both Scott and Cape Horn dams is key to returning California’s third largest watershed to a healthy state.”
“The dams have taken away the natural state of the river, which ties directly to the health of our people, both native and non. On the reservations in my area our groundwater is unsafe and the reduction in salmon runs has taken away an important source of subsistence. The majority of our people have lost the knowledge that we once traveled along the river based on what was accessible or in season. We migrated like our fish from the valley to the oceans and back again.” said Nikcole Whipple, a member of the Round Valley Indian Tribes, intern with Save California Salmon and Justice Fellow with Education Trust. “It’s time for the dams to come down and the river to be whole again. The regeneration of natural ecosystems needs to be a priority to help the underserved and underrepresented indigenous peoples in the Eel River and surrounding basins.”
The dams adversely impact Tribal Nations and Indigenous people for whom the Eel River holds cultural significance and who rely on it for sustenance. Loss of culturally and economically important fish runs, habitat loss and deterioration, and reductions in water quantity and quality are some of the negative impacts caused by the dams.
PG&E has already stated its intent to surrender their operating license and decommission the Project. Federal regulators must prevent PG&E from walking away from the damage its dams have caused. American Rivers and partners underscored the need for PG&E to remove the dams and restore river health.
“It’s clear these dams no longer serve their intended purpose and PG&E has said as much, but it’s also clear that the Project’s impacts, the damage the dams cause to the Eel River and its fish are worse than anticipated. There is no time to waste in getting these dams out of the river” said Charlie Schneider, Lost Coast Project Manager for California Trout.
The Eel River is the ancestral home of Tribal groups including the Wiyot, Sinkyone, Lassik, Nongatl, Yuki, Cahto, Pomo, and Wailaki peoples, and also now the home of other Tribes that were forcibly moved to the area in the early 20th Century. Many of these people continue to live along and care for the river today. The river is the third largest in California, and was once one of the most productive fisheries in the state. Once dam removal is complete, the Eel will be California’s longest free-flowing river.
The annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a list of rivers at a crossroads, where key decisions in the coming months will determine the rivers’ fates. Over the years, the report has helped spur many successes including the removal of outdated dams, the protection of rivers with Wild and Scenic designations, and the prevention of harmful development and pollution.
Other rivers in the region listed as endangered in recent years include the McCloud River (2021), Bear River (2017), and San Joaquin (2016).
America’s Most Endangered Rivers® of 2023
- Colorado River, Grand Canyon (Arizona):
THREAT: Climate change, outdated water management
AT RISK: Ecosystem health, reliable water delivery, regional economy
- Ohio River (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois):
THREAT: Pollution, climate change
AT RISK: Clean water for 5 million people
- Pearl River (Mississippi):
THREAT: Dredging and dam construction
AT RISK: Clean drinking water, local and downstream communities, fish and wildlife habitat
- Snake River (Idaho, Oregon, Washington):
THREAT: Four federal dams
AT RISK: Tribal treaty rights and culture, endangered salmon runs, rural and local communities
- Clark Fork River (Montana):
THREAT: Pulp mill pollution
AT RISK: Public health, fish and wildlife
- Eel River (California):
AT RISK: Fish and wildlife, tribal culture and sustenance
- Lehigh River (Pennsylvania):
THREAT: Poorly planned development
AT RISK: Clean water, fish and wildlife habitat, rural and local communities, open space
- Chilkat and Klehini rivers (Alaska):
AT RISK: Bald eagle, fish, and wildlife habitat, tribal culture and sustenance
- Rio Gallinas (New Mexico):
THREAT: Climate change, outdated forest and watershed management
AT RISK: Clean drinking water, farming, watershed functionality
- Okefenokee Swamp (Georgia, Florida):
AT RISK: Fish and wildlife habitat, wetlands, water quality and flow
About American Rivers
American Rivers is championing a national effort to protect and restore all rivers, from remote mountain streams to urban waterways. Healthy rivers provide people and nature with clean, abundant water and natural habitat. For 50 years, American Rivers staff, supporters, and partners have shared a common belief: Life Depends on Rivers. For more information, please visit AmericanRivers.org