Potter Vally Project

PG&E’s Potter Valley Project dams and diverts the Eel River in the inner Coast Range in Mendocino County into Potter Valley in the watershed of the Russian River.  The watershed lands of the Potter Valley project are in the Eel River watershed.  image

Eel River watershed

LakePillsbury:  This large reservoir near the headwaters of the Eel River is operated by PG&E.  PG&E owns roughly 700 acres adjacent to the reservoir, much of it in the narrow shoreline strip under FERC license.  The Forest Service has recreational access and development right easements on these lands.  PG&E ownership is concentrated mostly on the west and north shores and includes about 20 percent of the shoreline.  The remainder of the shoreline is national forest land. Almost all the watershed lands are contiguous with national forest land. 

Lake Pillsbury is a major recreational lake, heavily used for camping, boating, and fishing, even though access over steep winding roads is somewhat difficult. PG&E operates 6 campgrounds at the lake, which drew 23,000 users in 1996.

EelRiver below LakePillsbury:   PG&E owns about 5,000 acres of land along the 14 miles of the Eel River between Lake Pillsbury and the Van Arsdale diversion. The strip owned by PG&E is mostly ½ mile wide or wider and is continuous except for a 1/4 mile of national forest land. The PG&E lands are contiguous to national forest land east of the forest boundary and contiguous to other private ownerships west of the boundary.  Only a narrow three-mile strip along the river upstream from the Van Arsdale Reservoir is under FERC license.

Near Eel River - Photo courtesy PG&E <image>
The PG&E lands in the canyon are heavily wooded with Douglas fir and hardwoods; some of the forest provides habitat for old growth/late successional species.  Bald eagles and northern spotted owls have been observed in the area.  The PG&E lands also protect the scenic quality of the river valley and protect the unstable canyon slopes from disturbances that might trigger landslides.  Intensified logging on the PG&E lands could impair the attractiveness of the river to recreationists, destabilize the land, diminish the value of the anadromous fish habitat, and reduce late-successional wildlife values. 

Water stored in Lake Pillsbury is released at the rate of 50 to 150 cfs throughout the year.  These enhanced flows in the Eel River between Lake Pillsbury and the Van Arsdale diversion provide good growing conditions for young steelhead and salmon.  There are a fish ladder and a fish screen at the Van Arsdale Dam, and an average of 2,000 adult steelhead ascend the ladder each year.  The Van Arsdale diversion conveys a large portion of the flow to Potter Valley in the Russian River drainage.  As part of the Potter Valley Project license renewal, PG&E is being asked to release more water below the Van Arsdale diversion during the spring, which will further improve habitat and survival.

There is good access to the river near Lake Pillsbury and the Van Arsdale diversion, but the remainder of this stretch is reasonably isolated.  Rafting and kayaking opportunities are limited by unreliable flows.  PG&E operates a campground on the river just above Van Arsdale Reservoir which had 1,960 visits in 1996.   Seven archaeological sites have been documented on the PG&E lands.