PALO ALTO, Calif.— The public has sent a powerful message to Stanford University and government agencies that the university plan for protecting endangered species on the 8,000-acre campus doesn’t go far enough and must consider removing Searsville Dam. The comment period closed last week for a proposed Habitat Conservation Plan addressing endangered species impacts over the next 50 years; public comments emphasized the need to analyze the harmful effects of the 120-year-old dam on steelhead trout and other imperiled species.
“Stanford’s conservation plan inexplicably omits a thorough analysis of the impacts of the diversion dam, which blocks and significantly degrades habitat for endangered species in San Francisquito Creek,” said Matt Stoecker, chairman of the Beyond Searsville Dam Coalition. “While we intend to ensure that public-trust laws are adhered to, we are committed to working collaboratively with Stanford and others to improve the conservation plan to benefit endangered species and watershed health and improve flood protection.”
“Sooner or later Searsville Dam must come down, and the whole San Francisquito Creek watershed can be treated as the ecological treasure that it is,” said Pete McCloskey, former U.S. Congressman, coauthor of the Endangered Species Act, San Francisquito Creek watershed resident and Stanford University School of Law 1953 alumnus.
“Stanford has one of the most important dam-removal and ecosystem-restoration opportunities in the country, and can position itself as a leader in environmental stewardship and make huge progress in achieving its stated goal of being a more sustainable campus,” said Yvon Chouinard, founder of the clothing company Patagonia and Beyond Searsville Dam supporter. “Stanford has got to clean up their own backyard before people will take their sustainability and environmental message seriously. You are what you do, not what you say.”
“The environmental analysis of Stanford’s plan is clearly legally inadequate; it should address and mitigate all of the dam’s ecological impacts to endangered species covered in the conservation plan,” said Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity.
“What happens with Searsville Dam impacts all of us in the San Francisquito Creek watershed, from the mountains to the Bay and beyond,” said long-time creek advocate Danna Breen. “Stanford must collaborate with its neighbors on this dam issue to ensure community safety and watershed health. This plan doesn’t do that.”
The Conservation Plan acknowledges that the dam is antiquated, hurts San Francisquito Creek, and has not been modified to provide fish passage or downstream flows for wildlife habitat. Top university scientists have stated the need for watershed-wide collaboration to address environmental issues with the dam, but the Conservation Plan and a draft Environmental Impact Statement by federal regulators fail to include analysis of the dam’s impacts on endangered species or public safety. The Conservation Plan has no commitment to migratory fish passage at the dam, contains no downstream bypass water flows, which have been required at their other water diversions, and has not been coordinated with other watershed stakeholders affected by any decision or indecision on the dam.
The Beyond Searsville Dam coalition, Center for Ecosystem Management and Restoration, American Rivers, Center for Biological Diversity and the law firm Shute, Mihaly, Weinberg, LLP submitted 79 pages of formal comments this week on the legal and biological inadequacies of the proposed Conservation Plan, and more than 3,000 Bay Area residents, leading scientists and Stanford alumni have sent comments to Stanford and regulatory agencies asking for collaborative studies on dam removal.
Searsville Dam is an obsolete relic that has degraded wildlife habitat and blocked steelhead migration in the San Francisquito Creek watershed for more than a century and serves no drinking-water supply, flood control or hydropower function. The proposed Conservation Plan would include a 50-year federal permit under the Endangered Species Act to be able to incidentally harm and kill endangered species during future development plans and operations on the Stanford campus. Stanford proposes to maintain the dam and reservoir through an ill-defined dredging program. The Conservation Plan would allow operations that continue to prevent steelhead from spawning upstream of the dam and perpetuate the dam’s damaging ecological effects on downstream habitat and water quality in San Francisquito Creek.