Removing Searsville Dam is Close at Hand!

Plus: 2015 Successes

Thanks to your support, 2015 was a pivotal year for our efforts to see the responsible removal Searsville Dam. For a recap, please see our “Top 12” successes in 2015 highlighted below. With your support, 2016 will be the year that a restored, safe, and healthy San Francisquito Creek watershed vision is embraced by the community, regulators, and Stanford University. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation today to ensure that we can continue to advocate for this vision!
Before recapping the 2015 successes, Beyond Searsville Dam is excited to announce that the highly effective river conservation group Friends of the River (FOR) is our new non-profit fiscal sponsor. FOR’s membership and support goes back to the founding of the Beyond Searsville Dam coalition in 2007 and is growing stronger today. As a leading voice for California’s rivers, this expanded partnership brings additional FOR focus and expertise to helping us expand citizen action and engage with resource agencies at this critical time. Following the recently completed Searsville Alternatives Study effort, which we requested be established and also participated in, proposals for a Searsville Dam solution are entering a new and critical phase of open environmental review, public scrutiny, community participation, and regulatory input. We are actively engaged in this process.

Following the Searsville Study, Stanford announced that they want to further consider leaving much of the 125-year-old dam in place and either bore a 50-foot tunnel through the bottom of it, in an attempt to provide limited fish passage, or build an elaborate fish bypass channel around the dam. The University also said they were open to dam removal in the future or, presumably, if the above alternatives were determined to be infeasible.
Beyond Searsville Dam, along with multiple scientists, groups, and permitting agencies that participated in the multi-year Searsville Advisory Group process, have expressed serious doubt about the safety, effectiveness and feasibility of permitting either the hole-in-dam or bypass-the-dam proposals. Following a review of all the study results, multiple Searsville Advisory Group members have also publically voiced their support for dam removal as the preferred path forward. The State Water Board, a key permitting agency for any project at Searsville was crystal clear about their support for dam removal and concerns about other alternatives studied.   Multiple flood protection measures that can be implemented with dam  removal, along with low impact water supply alternatives, were also identified as both feasible and desirable in this process.
Now it’s time for the community and our public agencies to weigh in on what the future of our watershed will look like. Along with our coalition partners, Beyond Searsville Dam will continue to be the leading force behind advocating for a safe, healthy, and ecologically rich San Francisquito Creek watershed…. one without Searsville Dam.

Please consider making a special year-end tax-deductible donation to Beyond Searsville Dam today through our dedicated donation page on Friends of the River’s website.
Checks can be made out to Beyond Searsville Dam & mailed to:
Beyond Searsville Dam
c/o Friends of the River
1418 20
th Street, Suite #100
Sacramento, CA 95811

Your tax-deductible donation will be processed by Friends of the River

(Federal Tax ID: 94-2400210)



Top 12 Successes in 2015

Supporting Searsville Dam Removal


Through our efforts, and with other collaborators, 2015 saw many promising developments supporting the removal of Searsville Dam.

Here are a few highlights:
1) Following years of study, several Searsville Advisory Group members (including BSD) and scientists, with decades of combined expertise working on dam modification and removal projects, voted in favor of dam removal as the preferred and most effective Searsville solution.
2) The State Water Board, also a Searsville Advisory Group member and resource agency that would have to approve any proposal at Searsville, sent Stanford a letter following the study stating that the agency supports “alternatives that focus on dam removal”. They also questioned the effectiveness and permitting feasibility of other alternatives including Stanford’s hole-in-the-dam concept.
3) Stanford’s consultants showed, and the university acknowledged, that the Searsville Dam diversion is no longer necessary and that adequate diversions can be made at the existing, damless, and lower impact San Francisquito Creek Pump Station downstream. BSD has proposed this diversion solution for over a decade and requested that it be studied in the Searsville Alternatives Study process.
4) Stanford’s consultants showed, and the university acknowledged, that the Searsville Dam and Reservoir were not necessary for storing water and that alternative storage can be achieved by modifying the off-stream and lower impact Felt Reservoir. This solution also makes the water system more efficient by greatly reducing reservoir sedimentation and evaporation. BSD has proposed this water storage solution for over a decade and requested that it be studied in the Searsville Alternatives Study process.
5) Stanford’s consultants showed, and the university acknowledged, that safely restoring the flow of sediment (currently trapped at Searsville) to the San Francisco Bay, can have multiple benefits to watershed health and Bay wetland survival in the face of climate change and rising seas. BSD spearheaded efforts to insist that the Searsville Study consider the watershed and Bay wetland benefits of restored sediment transport downstream and climate change resilience. BSD also submitted USGS reports, which found relatively high methane emissions from Searsville Reservoir. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Stanford’s Chris Field agreed to assess this climate change impact from the reservoir. We have still not received this assessment, but have requested that agencies obtain this information from the University.
6) Stanford’s consultants showed, and the university acknowledged, that multiple, dual-purpose flood protection features can be implemented alongside dam removal to capture high flows, store floodwaters off-stream, expand reservoir area floodplains, and reduce flooding impacts while benefitting groundwater recharge and water quality. BSD has proposed multiple flood protection features downstream from and within a restored reservoir area for over a decade and requested that these actions be studied in the Searsville Alternatives Study process. The university’s consultant and staff identifying additional flood protection alternatives that could be developed. Combining several of these actions with dam removal can result in greater flood attenuation than all of the other Searsville alternatives studied. Stanford must now further evaluate these options with the agencies.
7) Alternatives to build a highly engineered fishway around or through the dam were widely criticized by the Advisory Group. Even Stanford’s consultants were unsure about the fish passage feasibility or effectiveness of these ideas due to multiple limitations and challenges including, limited stream flow amount, height of dam,  highly fluctuating reservoir surface elevation, potentially lethal reservoir water quality, non-native species predation in the reservoir, debris blockage, turbidity, channel armoring and site constraints. BSD pressed for these issues to be studied and submitted multiple reports and studies showing the problems with engineered fishways. Even without many of these problems being fully assessed, it was clear that fish passage effectiveness with the dam remaining in place was highly limited, required complicated maintenance, and would ignore other species migration needs and ecosystem benefits provided by dam removal and unimpeded migration for all species.
8) BSD submitted a letter to resource agencies following the Searsville Study process. The letter outlines key issues, data gaps, and needed assessments we have identified in the Searsville Advisory Group process and which we request the agencies ensure Stanford provides to the public. Many of these study requests were made to Stanford during the Advisory Group process, but were not carried out or disclosed to us. As part of any proposed Searsville project and environmental review requirements, Stanford must provide this analysis and adequately assess and consider all reasonable alternatives including dam modification and removal. BSD also submitted a 2014 “Jeopardy Decision” by the National Marine Fisheries Service to Santa Barbara County due to numerous adverse impacts to listed steelhead and watershed health caused by existing flood control dams with holes in them. Stanford’s proposed hole-in-dam idea would have many similar adverse impacts, which we believe make this proposal infeasible. Santa Barbara County has since begun to remove these harmful orifice-type flood control dams.
9) Advisory Group members noted that leaving the dam in place, cutting a hole in it, and dam overtopping during peak flow events would be a significant liability. Such proposals would require rigorous and updated analysis of seismic, structural, hydraulic, scour, and dam failure risks. Stanford and their consultants acknowledged that the Division of Safety of Dams would have to assess and approve  any proposed action to modify the dam. By contrast, BSD showed that dam removal combined with flood protection features would eliminate many of these dam caused risks completely including upstream flooding impacts caused by the dam in the Family Farm Road neighborhood. Turning Searsville into a flood control dam would also significantly reduce research and restoration opportunities at Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve and result in chronic and ongoing disturbance on a massive scale.
10) Advisory Group members pointed out that federal, state, local, and private foundation funding sources have been actively supporting dam removal efforts and that Searsville Dam removal would be a highly attractive project, especially as part of a dual purpose, watershed-scale flood protection and ecosystem restoration plan. We submitted several such funding sources ranging from fisheries recovery to flood protection and coastal resilience. On the other hand, several members expressed their opinion that funders and permitting agencies would not be supportive of alternatives that pursued modifying and leaving the dam in place. Modifying the dam as a stand-alone project would likely require Stanford funding exclusively and result in the University maintaining all liability for the dam.  
11) BSD has submitted reports, provided advice, and relayed watershed knowledge to both Stanford’s study process and two environmental groups suing the University for alleged Endangered Species Act violations associated with Searsville Dam and other water supply features and campus infrastructure. 2015 saw several exciting developments with these lawsuits including a federal judge denying Stanford’s request to stay the case with regards to threatened steelhead impacts from the dam and stating that waiting 2-3 years to implement protective actions would be too long of a delay. BSD is glad to see the progress being made in these cases by Ecological Rights Foundation and Our Children’s Earth Foundation. As an added bonus, the lawsuits have helped to push forward planning efforts to remove two long-sought fish passage barriers owned by Stanford; the abandoned Lagunita Diversion Dam and the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve concrete in-stream road crossing. Removing these two steelhead barriers (hopefully in 2016) has been a priority for BSD members since 1999 and will greatly improve steelhead migration along the entire mainstem of San Francisquito Creek.
12) The upstream Town of Portola Valley sent a powerful letter to Stanford supporting a Searsville solution that results in an “unimpeded migration corridor along Corte Madera Creek and other creeks to enable effective wildlife migration to and from Portola Valley in order to ensure that wildlife can maintain genetic diversity and adapt to a changing climate.” The only Searsville alternative that can achieve “unimpeded” steelhead and other wildlife migration is dam removal. All other alternatives would significantly impede, and for many species completely block, wildlife migration along the creek. 

American Rivers names San Francisquito Creek

one of the nation’s Most Endangered Rivers;

Searsville Dam to Blame

Read the announcement here

TAKE ACTION: Tell Stanford to remove Searsville Dam

Watch the Video

“We are committed to working collaboratively with Stanford and others to address the challenges of Searsville Dam in a manner that benefits endangered species, watershed health, and improves flood protection.”

Matt Stoecker, Director, Beyond Searsville Dam

“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.”

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. Beyond Searsville Dam Advisory Council.

“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. 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.”

Yvon Chouinard, owner of Patagonia and Beyond Searsville Dam Advisory Council.

“What happens with Searsville Dam impacts all of us in the San Francisquito Creek watershed, from the mountains to the Bay and beyond. Stanford must collaborate with its neighbors on this dam issue to ensure community safety and watershed health.”

Danna Breen, long-time San Francisquito Creek resident and advocate.


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Please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Beyond Searsville Dam today! Online donations can be made at our non-profit, fiscal sponsor Friends of the River’s website by clicking here.
Checks can be made out to Beyond Searsville Dam & mailed to:
Beyond Searsville Dam
c/o Friends of the River
1418 20
th Street, Suite #100
Sacramento, CA 95811

Your tax-deductible donation will be processed by Friends of the River

(Federal Tax ID: 94-2400210)

Thanks for your support!