My name is Hal Voege and I have an Eel River story to tell you. Long before we moved to Redwood Valley, while we were living in the Bay Area, I had friends and relatives who lived in southern Humboldt County. From them, I heard about the terrible state of the Eel River - that the fish were declining rapidly and that the water quality and quantity in the river and the estuary were very bad. They attributed the problems in the river to diversions through the Potter Valley Tunnel, operated by PG&E that diverted water into the East Fork of the Russian River. These same people had told me and showed me the devastation caused by Pacific Lumber under Maxxam. Of course, I believed what they told me about the state of the Eel and what was causing it, why not?
One July day I was there for a picnic near Garberville. After the meal, most of us decided to go down to the river (South Fork of the Eel) for a swim. Instead of swimming, I was wading in a large pool, perhaps 20 feet across, and I was surrounded by fish. It looked like there were hundreds of them, from 3-4 to 7- 8 inches long. Now, I'm no fish biologist so I couldn't tell you exactly what species of fish these were, but they all looked similar and they all looked like salmon. When I got back to the party, I asked about those fish and nobody had any idea what I was talking about. It did make me wonder a bit about their description of the Eel.
After we moved here and I joined the Redwood Valley County Water District Board, I had the opportunity to take the two tours that the Farm Bureau sponsors. The first one-day tour covered Lake Pillsbury, the Van Arsdale Reservoir, the PG&E power station and the East Fork of the Russian down to Lake Mendocino. That was my first eye-opener. Despite what I had been told about the huge amount of water that was being diverted down the tunnel to the power station, the actual amount was very small compared to the water going over the dam. How could this be the 'tunnel from Hell'? In fact, that water was not only producing nonpolluting electric power, it was also putting water into Lake Mendocino, which all of Redwood Valley (including me) depended on. Wow, the story I heard from my Humboldt County friends and the evidence didn't mesh.
A few weeks later, I went on the second half of the tour, which actually drove through and looked at the Eel River watershed. This was the second eye-opener, it is huge - the third largest watershed in the state, and drains 3,684 square miles. There are actually five forks of the Eel, South, Middle, North, Main, and Van Duzen and many, many tributaries. No one knows how much water flows in four of the five forks, or how many fish move up them to spawn, because the only place water flow or fish are counted is at the upper reach of the Main at Van Arsdale. That's the only place! All the rest of the discussion is hearsay.
Last summer, we camped near Leggett, and again I went down to the South Fork of the Eel to swim. Guess what! The water was again teeming with fish in a very dry year. The moral of this story is not to believe everything you are told about the Eel River. Find out for yourself and use your own judgment. The situation is probably not what some folks would have you believe.