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UPDATES: 2024 Flow Variances for Eel River - Russian River Trans Basin Diversion

UPDATED JUNE 27, 2024:

FERC approves 2024 flow variance to Russian River.

2024, 6-27 FERC approval of PG&E flow variance request.pdf

"We find that approval of PG&E’s temporary variance request would help ensure that it has adequate water storage capacity to provide flows and temperatures necessary for the protection of threatened species. The proposed variance conserves limited water resources, minimizes the risk of operational and dam safety effects at Lake Pillsbury, and maintains flows within the bounds of Article 52 of the license. While the Russian River watershed would receive reduced flow allocations, the proposed variance would appropriately balance competing interests by only further reducing flows to the Russian River below 25 cfs as necessary for the protection of Eel River salmonids or dam safety. In addition, the proposed variance would avoid new effects to Eel River environmental resources while minimizing any effects to aquatic resources in the East Branch Russian River. Finally, approval of the proposed variance would allow additional time for PG&E to complete the outstanding elements of its July 31, 2023 request for a permanent amendment to modify its minimum flow requirements and for the Commission to review and analyze the completed application. Therefore, we approve the temporary variance from the minimum flow and maximum release requirements in Article 52, subject to the conditions outlined below."



UPDATED JUNE 20, 2024:

PG&E urges FERC to implement the February 21, 2024, variance request as soon as possible

On June 13, 2024, PG&E submitted a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) providing further information on reservoir storage intent on hastening FERC's decision on the flow variance filed on February 21, 2024 by PG&E. The request was to "reduce East Branch Russian River (EBRR) flow requirements to proactively manage reservoir storage in a manner that is protective of Project facilities and minimize potential impacts to federally listed fish species in the Eel River. PG&E is currently operating the Project under the requirements of the Article 52 until FERC issues an order approving the 2024 variance request." (scroll down for more information on request.) 

PG&E closed the letter with the following :

"PG&E is in the process of preparing a license amendment application to revise the flow requirements to the EBRR until Project decommissioning is completed; however, until that amendment can be processed, PG&E urges FERC to implement the February 21, 2024, variance request as soon as possible to minimize potential impacts to federally listed fish species in the Eel River and continue to provide a reliable water source to downstream users."

2024, 6-14 PG&E let to FERC urging Flow Variance approval.pdf


Additionally, from a letter dated June 17, 2024: “NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) respectfully urges the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to expedite the approval of Pacific Gas and Electric Company’s (PG&E) 2024 Minimum Instream Flow Variance Request Due to Restricted Storage Capacity, dated February 22, 2024, for the Potter Valley Hydroelectric Project (Project) located on the Eel River and East Fork of the Russian River in Lake and Mendocino counties, California.

2024, 6-17 NOAA let to FERC urging Flow Variance approval.pdf

Round Valley Indian Tribes & CA Fish and Wildlife also submitted letters urging a quick approval of the variance:

2024, 6-20 RVIT flow variance support let to FERC.pdf2024, 6-20 CA DFW flow variance support let to FERC.pdf



PG&E Files a Flow Variance and Comments are Received by FERC

In response to PG&E's flow variance filing (see below), the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a notice of comment period on February 29, 2024. Deadline for filing comments, motions to intervene, and protests was  April 1, 2024 and response from FERC is pending.  A coalition submitted a letter to FERC urgently requesting approval of the Variance.  

2024, 2-22 PG&E Flow Variance Request to FERC.pdf2024, 2-29 FERC notice of comment period on flow variance.pdf2024, 06-03 Variance plea by FOER, CT, TU, etc..pdf

Public comments and motions to intervene that were submitted (may not be a complete list):

2024, 3-7 SWRCB motion to intervene.txt2024, 3-20 Potter Valley Irr Dist. Motion to Intervene.pdf2024, 3-25 Palomino LMWC comments.pdf2024, 3-29 CA F&W Motion to Intervene.pdf2024, 4-1 Mendo Farm Bureau comments.pdf2024, 4-1 City of Ukiah Motion to Intervene.pdf2024, 4-1 RVIT Motion to Intervene.pdf2024, 3-27 Dept of Interior Motion to Intervene.pdf2024, 3-25 Palomino LMWC Motion to Intervene.pdf2024, 4-1 Friends of the Eel Motion to Intervene.pdf2024, 4-1 Lake County Motion to Intervene.pdf2024, 4-1 Wiyot Tribe Motion to Intervene.pdf2024, 4-1 Sonoma Co Ag Users Motion to Intervene.pdf


Further information on flow variance requested:

On February 21, 2024, PG&E submitted the 2024 Flow Variance Request Due to Restricted Storage Capacity to the Federal Energy Regulatory  Commission (FERC.) At some point in the future, FERC will issue a notice for public comment before considering approval of the request.  Highlights from the document:

MINIMUM POOL:  PG&E continues to use 12,000 AF as the Lake Pillsbury planning minimum for water management.

LONG TERM: PG&E states "...FERC requested PG&E to file an application to amend the license to leave the spillway gates open indefinitely. Currently, PG&E has initiated the internal process to prepare the license amendment." 

TEMPERATURE: PG&E believes that continued elevated withdrawals through the summer accelerates the depletion of cooler water in Lake Pillsbury that support federally ESA-listed salmonids during the dry season. This results in elevated release water temperature in late summer.  PG&E proposes a flexible managment release strategy: when daily average water temperatures exceed 15°C (which could occur beginning in June) PG&E will notify Agencies and begin meeting weekly to determine if diversions to the East Branch Russian River (EBRR) should be further reduced in support of preserving water storage for cooler release temperatures. In coordination with Agencies, PG&E will adjust flows in EBRR between 25 and 5 cfs for July through September 30, as needed to preserve cooler water temperatures in the reservoir. After September 30, releases would remain at 25 cfs. 

TERM:  PG&E requests that the variance proposal take effect as soon as FERC approves the request. The drought variance will end when Lake Pillsbury storage exceeds 36,000 AF after October 1, 2024, or is superseded by another variance or license amendment. The 36,000 AF storage threshold would allow the reservoir to meet minimum flow obligations, including a possible Blockwater release, through January 2025 if inflow is extremely low in early winter.

SUMMARY: East Branch Russian River flows will be 25 cfs and then adjusted between 5 and 25 cfs based on PG&E and agency determination when daily average reservoir release water temperatures exceed 15°C  (typically in early June).  After September 30, EBRR  will be held at 25 cfs for the remainder of the variance. Reductions to EBRR flow releases may also occur if the Lake Pillsbury storage forecast indicates facility safety concerns due to low storage levels (12,000 AF).


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