Potter Valley Irrigation District Logo

Supporting sustainable food, power, and water for over 100 years

In 1908, a hydroelectric plant was built on the north end of Potter Valley, replacing a coal-fired plant to power the city of Ukiah. Today, roughly 3% of the Eel River watershed is diverted to the Russian River to run the turbines.

Potter Valley Irrigation District provides agricultural water for Potter Valley, in Mendocino County, California, using a portion of the water diverted through the power plant. Potter Valley's family farms produce wine grapes, pears, grass-fed cattle, sheep and other agricultural products valued at over $34 million.

cattle crossingThe Great Green Pumpkin
Sheep munching spring grass, March 2016
Sheep munching new grass

Thank you to everyone who submitted a public comment!

The local response to the comment period ending June 28th was excellent. Thank you for staying engaged in the process to protect our water resources. There will be other opportunities to comment during this process, and every voice is valuable. PVID official public comments for June 28, 2020.

PVID Status Update April 27, 2020

Dear Water Customer,

The lack of normal rainfall this winter and spring has everyone concerned. The Potter Valley Irrigation District (PVID) is currently under a DRY water year flow pattern per review by the Potter Valley Drought Working Group. A Flow Variance from the established Reasonable & Prudent Alternative (RPA) has been submitted to The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Flow releases for the Eel River and East Branch Russian River (EBRR) will be adjusted as a variable relationship to Lake Pillsbury actual storage.

On May 15th of a normal water year the flow release for the EBRR would be 75 cubic feet per second (cfs) and 50 cfs for PVID and a 5 cfs buffer so the total release through the powerhouse would be 130 cfs.

Between May 1, and June 30, 2020, we will be under a DRY year flow plan. Release to the EBRR will begin at 15 cfs. PVID will be operating on a demand based system receiving between 0 and 50 cfs and a 5 cfs buffer flow is also added so the total release through the Powerhouse will be a maximum of 70 cfs.

Based on a bi-monthly review of Lake Pillsbury storage projections, expectations are that flows for the EBRR will increase to 20 cfs for July, August and September then decrease to 10 cfs October, November and December. If pre-established minimum monthly storage levels in Lake Pillsbury are not met the water year designation may change from DRY to CRITICAL and the total release through the powerhouse could drop to 60 cfs or less.

We expect to have sufficient water to irrigate our lands with a rotation schedule of approximately 14 days. It remains possible that this could extend out to a 21 day rotation if the water year becomes CRITICAL.

As always, we stress conservation and management of all irrigation water. The District Bylaws must be strictly followed. Excessive tail water is wasteful and slows down the rotation and delivery to the next customer. We ask that you coordinate closely with the water tenders and please give them the 2 hour minimum notice required for your requested off time.

If you have questions or problems related to your water deliveries please contact Superintendent Steve Elliott at 743-1109 or 621-2045. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation.

PVID Status Update February 19, 2020

As of 1-24-2020 the water storage level at Lake Pillsbury is below the spill crest of Scott Dam yet still above target storage curve. This allows PG&E to divert flows through the project in excess of the minimum of 40 CFS this time of year. They have been diverting flows at a rate of 160 CFS on a regular basis. With only 12 inches of rain so far Lake Pillsbury is 6 feet from the spill crest at Scott Dam.

Everyone is still apprehensive about what is going on with PG&E. FERC relicensing, bankruptcy, and now it seems they have chosen to surrender their FERC License! How can we hope to keep track of all this information? How can we make our voices heard to protect the beneficial use of our water rights. You can follow Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission, MC Farm Bureau, and Potter Valley Irrigation District on their websites. Talk with your local and regional representatives.

A broad range of affected entities have formed a coalition to file for the sunsetting PG&E Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) License and assume control and operation of the Potter Valley Project. Representative Jared Huffman has established an AD-HOC committee to establish a forum representing concerns of both the Eel and Russian River watersheds. Remember, it’s an election year. We need representatives that are going to stand up for our water rights and agriculture.

Our 2020 infrastructure improvement plan, if approved by the Board of Directors will allow for the installation of pipe in approximately 2,000 feet of the open ditch lateral #17 and replace 640 feet of RCP on Lateral #20. We will continue our work on the Busch Creek Flume, and we are in the planning phase for the reconstruction of the East Canal Pump delivery system by replacing it with a gravity flow system similar to the west canal direct diversion system. We will continue with normal maintenance projects as well. We are also working on our 2020 proposed budget, and the 2019 PVID annual financial audit, performed by Robert Johnson Accountancy out of Sacramento.

I would like to remind everyone that our water rates for 2020 are the same as they were for 2019. PVID will be paying $15.00 per acre foot and water customers will be paying $17.50 per acre foot as our contract with PG&E stipulates. Garden Pumps discharging less than 25.0 GPM will be charged by the flat rate method of $100.00 per year.

Just a reminder, if you purchase water from PVID, please maintain an accurate record of each irrigation, and stay in contact with your Water Tender. A calendar works well for logging the start date & time, and the stop date & time. Please remember, we require at least a 2 hour notice with your request to have your water turned off. This policy allows the water tender time to arrange moving your water to the next waiting customer. If you are irrigating a different, or additional, parcel of property this year please contact the District office to set up a new water account, 707-743-1109.

The PVID Board of Directors is doing everything they can to ensure the PV Project diversion continues beyond 2022.

Steven Elliott,
Potter Valley Irrigation District

MCFB statement on PG&E's intent to abandon Potter Valley Project relicensing - January 25, 2019

We want you to know that Mendocino County Farm Bureau is very active in the numerous issues related to the Potter Valley Project and will continue to keep you updated.

Please share this information so we can keep the community well informed. It is times like this that your membership is essential to our united voice!

Today at approximately 12:15 PM, we received the following notice from PG&E via email:

Today PG&E submitted a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) providing our "Notice of Withdrawal of Notice Of Intent to File License Application and Pre-Application Document" for the Potter Valley Project. As a result, PG&E will expeditiously cease all activities related to the relicensing of the Project. Our decision to cease Project relicensing will also result in the stoppage of our efforts to sell the Project via the Request for Offers (RFO) process.

This action is being taken to ensure limited available funds are deployed to the highest priority activities. We recognize the gravity of this action, but believe it is appropriate given PG&E's current circumstances.

Although the timing is unclear at this point, we anticipate that PG&E's action will result in FERC initiating its Orphan Project process. In accordance with the Orphan process, FERC will provide interested parties the opportunity to submit an application for a new Project license. We believe this path will allow interested parties more time to prepare for the acquisition of the Project and the ability to submit a License Application on their own terms rather than assuming PG&E’s current application. If the Orphan process does not result in the issuance of a new Project License, it is expected FERC will order PG&E to prepare and submit a Surrender Application and Decommissioning Plan.

PG&E will continue to own and operate the Project in accordance with the terms and conditions of the current Project license and all laws, rules, and regulations governing the operation of the Project until a new license is issued or the Project is decommissioned. PG&E also intends to support the Orphan process through provision of work products and information developed to date in the relicensing process to those who apply to FERC for a new Project license.

PG&E recognizes that many stakeholders have invested significant effort in the relicensing process and we are very appreciative. We apologize for any challenges or inconvenience this action might cause.

What this means??????????

Although it is unclear at this time what the ramifications are from this latest decision, Mendocino County Farm Bureau is in contact with appropriate entities to determine what the next steps in the process may look like for the re-licensing and sale of the Potter Valley Project.

However, some take-aways from the letter above include:

The fact that this action will provide interested parties, such as, Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission additional time to organize and consider the submittal of a Request for Offers (RFO) past the current February 1st deadline.

Also, PG&E will, "continue to own and operate the Project in accordance with terms and conditions of the current Project license and all laws, rules, and regulations governing the operation of the Project until a new license is issued or the Project is decommissioned."

The objective of maintaining the Project under local control has not changed with this new information. Mendocino County Farm Bureau will continue to be involved in this issue and work on education and outreach opportunities for our membership and the general public. We know that this latest development is concerning, but until additional information is provided, we need to move forward with supporting the Project and the related water supply.


MCFB will continue to actively promote the preservation of local control over the Potter Valley Water Project. We are taking donations to assist this effort. If you would like to contribute; please make the check out to MCFB Water Education & Outreach Fund. Or you can donate with a credit card by clicking the button below, please specify the purpose of the donation towards the Water Education & Outreach Fund.

Current Lake Storage

Lake Pillsbury Current Storage

Lake Mendocino Current Storage

Lake Mendocino Drought Comparisons

PG&E Announces plans to sell the Potter Valley Project

PG&E Official Notice of Potter Valley Project Sale, May 10, 2018

PVID Status Update June 20, 2018

Some years we begin our water season the middle of March following frost season. It was the middle of May before water season got into full swing this year. Frost season was near non-existent, and Lake Pillsbury has filled. Cumulative inflow to Pillsbury has fallen short of the required amount to move us out of the Dry Year Flow Plan. Though flows have been consistently above the minimum requirements below Cape Horn Dam, flows being released through the Project into the East Branch Russian River will remain a maximum of 80 CFS through the summer.

Everyone is talking about PG&E and their decision to divest themselves of the Potter Valley Hydro Project. PVID is fully engaged in this process with other public entities to insure the continued viability of the Potter Valley Project. PG&E is required to continue with the current relicensing process including all studies as required. I will attempt to keep you informed as we move through this process. Keep an eye on our website!

PVID has been extremely busy since it stopped raining. We have installed 660 feet of 18 inch pipe in lateral #36 above and under Hawncreek Road. We are installing 2,140 feet of 18 inch heavy wall PVC pipe in lateral #50 along Main Street. All of this work is being done between customer irrigation demand. Minor repairs are being completed at gates #75, #31, #80, #36-3-4. Hand cleaning of all open ditch laterals is an ongoing process.

I would like to remind everyone that our water rates for 2018 through May of 2019 will remain the same as 2017 as our contract with PG&E stipulates. PVID is paying $10.00 per acre foot and our customers will be charged $12.50 per acre foot.

Just a reminder, please maintain a record of each irrigation, and stay in contact with your Water Tender. A calendar works well for logging the start date & time, and the stop date & time.

Steven Elliott,

Potter Valley Project Relicensing

In order to continue operating Lake Pillsbury, Scott Dam, and Van Arsdale Dam, along with the diversion that runs the Potter Valley Project 9.4 MW hydropower plant and provides water to the Potter Valley Irrigation district past 2022, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) must obtain a new FERC license. At the current time PG&E is not proposing to add capacity or make any major modifications to the Project or its operation. The initial documents have been submitted and the process is underway. The Potter Valley Project is a critical water resource for Potter Valley.

A new group has formed, Water Solutions, that is closely following the relicensing process and the impacts of it on the Eel River and Russian River watersheds. You can sign up with them to get email updates with news about the relicensing, including updates on public comment periods.

On January 10, 2018, at 6pm in the Potter Valley School multipurpose room, the PVID Board will be hosting a public presentation detailing the project, the relicensing process, and how you can help. There will be opportunities for questions, and refreshments will be provided.

Documents relating to the process, including presentations shown at the March 2017 public meeting, can be found at http://www.pge.com/pottervalley. You can also find instructions there to be notified by email of FERC activity on this project, and this overview of the project that includes many historical and contextual images of the Project.

Scoping Document #2, which lists issues to be considered in the Environmental Impact Report, is now available. Read more on the Potter Valley Project Relicensing page.

Featured Documents

Check out our interactive map of the Eel River watershed. It includes major and minor watershed boundaries, USGS stream gauges, popups with pictures and data at points of interest, and major peaks overlaid on a satellite image.

The Economic Impacts of Water and Agricultural Industries: Inland Mendocino County - 2015 study documenting the economic value of water and water storage in the Upper Russian River watershed.
Memorandum: Dependable Yield for Coyote Valley Dam (Lake Mendocino) - UC Davis memo discussing water management for Lake Mendocino under drought conditions.

The PVID Documents & Data page collects scientific papers, government reports, regulatory documents, and other relevant data and information for the Eel River and Russian River systems. In some cases, we have scanned or acquired papers that were not previously available in electronic format to make them available here, such as Kubicek, P.F. 1977., which is a key study of Eel River summer temperatures.

Potter Valley Project 2012 Block Water Releases & Guidelines (12 MB PDF) is from a July 30, 2012 presentation to the Eel-Russian River Commission Meeting by Dick Butler and Jeffery Jahn of NMFS. This is an excellent discussion of the use of Lake Pillsbury block water and considerations used to determine whether proposed water releases are appropriate and beneficial to fish.

Busch Creek Flume, Jan 10, 2017
Busch Creek Flume, Jan 10, 2017

Potter Valley Project Block Water Request 2014 - NMFS/CDFW press release discussing their 2014 block water request of 2,085 acre-feet for the purpose of lowering and monitoring the water temperature from Lake Pillsbury to Outlet Creek to protect juvenile steelhead from August 15 through October 11. The release will be closely monitored to determine its effectiveness and also to inform future models of the system.

C. Hypotheses and Effectiveness Monitoring

This blockwater release will test the following hypotheses:

  1. Increased releases from Lake Pillsbury through the Scott Dam needle valve will increase the extent of the optimal coldwater rearing zone (≤ 20°C) between Scott and Cape Horn dams.
  2. Increased releases from Lake Pillsbury through the Scott Dam needle valve will decrease water temperature and increase habitat availability (using flow as indicator) downstream of Cape Horn Dam to Tomki Creek.
  3. Sufficient reservoir storage will sustain a coldwater pool that effectively maintains favorable steelhead temperature-dependent interaction conditions between Scott and Cape Horn dams.

The following data will be gathered to test these hypotheses:

The latest Russian River frost water regulation decision (2.7 MB PDF) was reached on 9/26/12. The State Water Resources Control Board's Section 862 frost water regulation on the Russian River was judged an improper exercise of the Board's authority. The Findings of Fact contains a substantial narrative discussing frost protection in the Russian River watershed and the use of water for this purpose. While these frost water regulations excluded Potter Valley, it is worth reading the narrative to get a better understanding of water issues on the Russian River system.

We've created a new interactive graph of Van Arsdale Fish Counts showing all historical data from VAFS starting in 1933. You can also download the raw data in CSV form, if you wish. The graph makes it easy to compare the counts of the different species and to see how counts have changed over the years.

potter valley panorama