American Rivers names San Francisquito Creek

one of the nation’s Most Endangered Rivers;

Searsville Dam to Blame

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TAKE ACTION: Tell Stanford to remove Searsville Dam

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2014: The Searsville Dam Countdown

The chance to remove Searsville Dam has never been closer at hand.  Searsville Dam and diversions block fish migration, degrade habitat and water quality, and regularly contribute to the dewatering of our creek.  These impacts cause significant ecological damage and endanger threatened steelhead trout and other native wildlife. 

After more than a decade of constant pressure and our urging, Stanford University has started a stakeholder process to determine the fate of their antiquated dam.  We are actively engaged in this process and serve on the Searsville Dam Advisory Group to Stanford.  Stanford plans to make a decision on the future of the dam within the year. All options are currently being studied, including dam removal and watershed restoration. Stanford’s consultant recently said removing the dam and replacing the lost storage at other existing facilities is feasible in a number of ways. With your financial support, we can capitalize on this unique moment, and together we can revive our degraded creek, welcome home annual runs of wild steelhead, ensure a reliable and upgraded water supply for Stanford, and safeguard local communities.

“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.

                            Why the Beyond Searsville Dam coalition?

For over a century, Stanford University’s antiquated Searsville Dam has had an enormous negative impact on San Francisquito Creek watershed and greater San Francisco Bay estuary. Built between 1890 and 1892, the 65-foot tall and 275-foot wide Searsville Dam has lost over 90% of its original water storage capacity as roughly 1.5 million cubic yards of sediment has filled in the reservoir. Searsville Dam does not provide potable water, flood control, or hydropower.

The disappearing reservoir behind the dam flooded and buried a unique valley where over six streams flowed for miles and merged together among adjacent wetland ponds  and vast riparian forests before squeezing through a small gorge where the dam now stands. With potential dam removal, restoration of this valley and ponds can provide a valuable flood protection function by soaking up and retaining winter flows and releasing them gradually while providing excellent habitat. Enhancement of water diversion  operations, flood protection characteristics, and connectivity with proposed downstream flood protection measures could also be key design features of this multi-objective project, as has been accomplished elsewhere.

The impassable and obsolete Searsville Dam blocks native fish, such as steelhead trout, and other aquatic species from accessing San Francisquito Creek’s largest, historic spawning and rearing tributary flowing through Portola Valley and Woodside. The artificial, warm-water habitat of the disappearing reservoir also supports numerous non-native and invasive species, including a variety of fish and bullfrogs, which compete with and prey upon native species both within the reservoir and downstream where they spill over. The stagnant reservoir also degrades water quality and operations of the dam include no dedicated bypass flows for downstream fish and wildlife.

Sediment management alternatives can include stabilizing much of the sediment, vegetation, and riparian habitat currently in place while some can be used for agricultural uses nearby and other uses. Managers of ongoing wetland restoration projects in San Francisco Bay have expressed a need for millions of cubic yards of clean sediment. Recent USGS studies have also found that natural sediment transport down SF Bay creeks is needed to ensure that there is sufficient silt to help build up coastal wetlands in the face of projected sea-level-rise. Removal of Searsville Dam would provide some of this needed sediment back to bay wetlands while helping to minimize project costs.

Across the country and around the world, over 1000 dams that have outlived their usefulness have been removed to restore ecosystem health, improve flood protection, reduce safety risks, comply with environmental regulations, save money, improve water supply operations for the owners, revitalize communities, and provide unique educational and research opportunities. A multi-objective project that involves Searsville Dam removal, enhanced flood protection, sustainable water supply facilities, and watershed restoration can provide all of these benefits to the San Francisquito Creek watershed, Stanford University, and surrounding communities. The time is now to consider dam removal as a viable solution to the Searsville Dam dilemma. Beyond Searsville Dam is working hard to ensure that this happens.

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