Stanford delays decision, wants to keep environmentally harmful dam
May 1, 2015
Steve Rothert, California Director of American Rivers, 530-277-0448 Matt Stoecker, Director of Beyond Searsville Dam, 650-380-2965
Stanford University’s obsolete Searsville Dam will continue to damage San Francisquito Creek and its threatened steelhead trout runs for years as a result of the university’s announcement today that it will delay a final decision on the fate of the 123-year-old dam, despite years of study. Stanford indicated its preferred option is to cut a hole at the bottom of the 65-foot high, 50-foot thick dam. If this option is infeasible, Stanford’s second choice is to let the reservoir fill in with sediment and build an elaborate fish passage facility around the dam.
Stanford’s Searsville Dam has blocked threatened steelhead trout from reaching miles of good habitat and dried up the creek since about 1892. Now 123 years later, the reservoir is over 90 percent filled in with sediment and is no longer needed to supply water to golf course and landscaping.
American Rivers, Beyond Searsville Dam, California Trout and dozens of other conservation groups and businesses have repeatedly called for dam removal. Studies conducted by Stanford over the past two years demonstrate that the dam can be safely removed and improve flood safety for downstream communities.
Last month, the California Water Resources Control Board was the first permitting agency to formally weigh in on the future of Searsville Dam. They reiterated their support for dam removal and raised concerns about other options, including cutting a hole in the dam. The Town of Portola Valley, just upstream of the dam, requested that Stanford restore “unimpeded” wildlife migration and watershed heath; outcomes that can only be accomplished with dam removal. American Rivers named San Francisquito
Creek one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2014 because of Searsville Dam, and citizens have sent more than 25,000 letters to the university calling for dam removal.
The key question Stanford plans to study further and consult with regulatory agencies on is whether it is feasible to allow the fine-grained sediments trapped by Searsville to pass through the creek to the San Francisco Bay during high flow events.
“American Rivers appreciates that Stanford has abandoned the idea that Searsville is useful for supplying water for their golf course and landscaping, particularly in this drought. However, we are concerned that operating a dam with a hole in it will be more troublesome than they expect, with impacts to fish passage and sediment accumulation causing ongoing problems. Stanford had a chance to choose to remove the dam in a way that would fully restore the creek and steelhead runs while reducing flood risk for downstream communities. We expect they will reach that conclusion before too long as resource agencies weigh in,” said Steve Rothert, California Director of American Rivers.
“Poking a hole in an unneeded dam or letting it fill in with sediment are not viable solutions. These are ineffective Band-Aids that are unlikely to secure permits or attract funding support,” said Matt Stoecker of Beyond Searsville Dam. “The troubling thing is that recent studies have shown that dam removal, combined with identified off-stream floodwater detention ponds, can provide the greatest ecosystem benefit while also achieving elevated flood protection that is in line with their preferred orofice alternative”
Long-time Beyond Searsville Dam supporter Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, said the announcement was disappointing but not surprising, “Most owners of obsolete dams go through a phase of denial, then propose some unachievable compromise before they finally realize that removing their deadbeat dam is in everyone’s best interest. The dam will come down, and Stanford will be celebrating along with the rest of us when it finally does.”