This summer saw the first dam removal in modern times on an operating PG&E hydroelectric project, thanks to a settlement agreement that the utility signed in 2000 with Foothill Conservancy, government agencies and other environmental groups.
On tributaries of the Mokelumne River's North Fork in Amador County, PG&E's construction crews completely removed the West Panther Creek Dam and breached the East Panther Creek Dam.
They also removed the components of Beaver Creek Dam that formerly diverted water from the creek into the PG&E hydroelectric project. (The dam was left because there is another fish-blocking structure just upstream.) PG&E has also relinquished the right to divert water from the creeks.
The dam removal was noteworthy enough to warrant front-page stories in The Sacramento Bee and Stockton Record. The story also appeared on NBC News local affiliates in Sacramento and San Francisco.
The PR was nice, but most important is the result. For the first time since 1931, fish can swim upstream on each fork of Panther Creek, and all three creeks have been restored to their full natural flow!
Foothill Conservancy Vice President Pete Bell spearheaded the effort to remove the dams. A half-page feature story in The Bee on September 7 highlighted Bell and his river work.
He represented the Conservancy in the intense negotiations that led to the settlement agreement and the dam removal. He also serves on an ongoing Ecological Resources Committee that manages the license monitoring and adaptive management program.
The settlement agreement established conditions for PG&E's continued operation of its Mokelumne River hydroelectric project. It improves ecological conditions along the river and related recreational facilities while allowing continued power generation from PG&E's system of dams.
The settlement set national precedents for hydro project relicensing and has received state and national awards.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission incorporated the settlement's terms in a new 30-year license it issued for the project in October 2001.
Last year, PG&E began many of the facility modifications required by the settlement and license - improvements that may cost more than $50 million.
In addition to the dam dismantling, the projects include building new weirs to measure stream flow, replacing valves in dams to allow greater control of water releases, and building or improving recreation facilities.