Stop Stanford University’s flawed Habitat Conservation Plan


BSD and other coalition groups comment on the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Stanford University's Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP); challenge adequacy and request new consultation.

Legal counsel for Beyond Searsville Dam, American Rivers, and California Trout submitted the following comment letter challenging the adequacy of the EIS and HCP and requesting a supplement to the EIS and reinitiated consultation on Stanford’s 2008 Biological Opinion for their Steelhead Habitat Conservation Plan.

Beyond Searsville Dam also submitted the following comment letter in conjunction with the above legal letter outlining additional detail and references related to the EIS inadequacies and requests.

Additionally, over 400 citizens submitted comments (including those on our online petition website) challenging the adequacy of the EIS and requesting further investigation and consultation from the agencies. Thanks to everyone who sent comments last minute for this public comment period ending on Christmas Eve.


Following over a decade of public input on Stanford’s proposed habitat plan, the University stunned local watershed stakeholders and environmental groups, by dramatically changing their proposed action with only days left in the public comment period. December 6th, Stanford University sent federal wildlife officials a letter (attached to our response letter below) suspending its permit application for all activities within the San Francisquito Creek watershed and all conservation measures for threatened steelhead trout. This abrupt and widely criticized move seemingly eliminates conservation measures for most of the Stanford campus, the plans principle watershed and most of the planned riparian conservation easements, and one of the main threatened species to be protected.

To add to the confusion, on December 10th, Stanford issued a press release indicating that it seeks to cover other endangered species outside of the San Francisquito Creek watershed on a small portion of it’s 8000+ acre campus, yet still operate their dams and reservoirs within the San Francisquito Creek watershed to divert stream flows away from imperiled steelhead and other listed species! This described change makes no sense from a legal or practical perspective. The press release also fails to mention the current public comment period and inaccurately states that the agencies can begin issuing permits for the plan before the public comment period is over. However, federal agencies say that the University has not clarified the details of their last minute change or submitted a new application and the comment period for the Environmental Impact Statement remains in effect until Dec. 24th.

In addition to the above confusion caused by Stanford, their Habitat Conservation Plan and the associated federal Environmental Impact Statement are both inaccurate and inadequate and, if finalized, threaten to compromise the health of San Francisquito Creek, endangered species habitat, flood protection efforts, and raise new safety concerns at Stanford's 120-year-old Searsville Dam.

How are the Stanford Habitat Conservation Plan and the associated Environmental Impact Statement flawed? Here are just a few reasons:

- The Stanford HCP specifically excludes addressing and mitigating their environmentally destructive and U.S. Army Corps designated "high hazard" Searsville Dam (p.5) or needed flood protection measures on San Francisquito Creek. On the contrary, the plan improperly proposes Searsville-related sediment management activities that are expected to cause new and long-term negative impacts to endangered species downstream and additional dam safety and flood protection concerns. Stanford does not have a federal Endangered Species Act permit or a Streambed Alteration Agreement from the Department of Fish and Game to operate Searsville Dam. Stanford's plan proposed no measures to provide steelhead passage upstream of the impassable dam, to release flow downstream for wildlife, to prevent non-native species in the reservoir to disperse throughout the watershed, or to prevent habitat degradation caused by the dam that occurs downstream all the way to San Francisco Bay wetlands. Read our past letter with American Rivers and California Trout outlining this deficiency.

- The HCP and EIS incorrectly separate Stanford’s private, non-potable water system from Searsville Dam, one of the systems main integrated facilities. The EIS includes coverage for Stanford’s off-stream Felt Reservoir and two of the stream diversion facilities that supply Felt with local creek water. These two diversions have been modified to allow steelhead migration and dedicated flows for wildlife downstream. However, the HCP and EIS fail to include any such protective measures for Felt Reservoir’s third water source, Searsville Dam, despite the fact that the Searsville diversion was recently modified, with a new booster pump station, for the specific purpose of improving diversions to Felt Reservoir. Read our past legal counsel letter outlining why we believe this segregation of Searsville Dam violates the provisions of the Endangered Species Act.

- We have also been informed that in 2004, without federal or state permits, and in the middle of negotiations with federal and state wildlife officials, Stanford built a new booster pump station and significantly modified their non-potable water system to pressurize and expand their capability to divert Searsville Reservoir water to Felt Reservoir and vice versa. This discovered action transformed the Searsville Diversion from a gravity system to a pressurized system for the purpose of filling the higher elevation Felt Reservoir and results in new, unpermitted, discharge of Searsville Reservoir, and presumably Felt Reservoir, sediments directly into San Francisquito Creek as noted in the EIS itself. Diversion of Searsville water to Felt Reservoir contributes to ongoing dewatering of Corte Madera Creek below Searsville Dam causing unpermitted harm to steelhead and other federally listed species. The EIS fails to acknowledge that the unpermitted booster pump station project is a Felt Reservoir supply enhancement activity which would continue to operate without permits and in violation of the ESA. The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) prohibits the inclusion of unlawful activities associated with the Covered Activities within the EIS, such as would occur under this plan with ongoing Felt Reservoir filling and operations.

- Despite statements to the contrary, the EIS actually does includes other “Searsville-related activities”, besides diverting water to and from Felt Reservoir, without adequately addressing the negative impact of Searsville Dam itself. Our October 25, 2012 letter to the agencies (following issuance of the EIS), clearly shows that Stanford’s misguided proposal to re-route Corte Madera Creek through a new, nearly 2000-foot long and 50-foot wide artificially constructed  channel is a Searsville sediment management activity. The letter clearly shows that the proposed stream re-routing and channel excavation project would harm listed species and habitat both at the excavation site and downstream, including critical habitat for steelhead trout. Our October 22, 2012 letter shows that the EIS underreports and excludes listed species occurrence adjacent to the proposed channel excavation site and fails to assess the biological, flooding, and dam safety impacts of the channel excavation project.

- In their May 24, 2007 dam safety inspection report of Searsville Dam, the California Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD) informed Stanford that a detailed safety inspection of Searsville Dam was warranted due to its age and earthquakes since the last such inspection over 40 years prior. At our request, DSOD recommended that Stanford coordinate and carry out this inspection with DSOD staff. In 2010 Stanford requested more time to carry this inspection out by the end of 2012. With over four years to request and acquire the permits needed to carry out the inspection, Stanford failed to carry out this critically important public safety measure. Our November 5, 2012 letter to DSOD points out the numerous safety concerns at Searsville Dam and DSOD is currently reviewing and considering the safety of Searsville Dam in light of this information. The EIS fails to consider the "present" and "future" safety concerns at Searsville Dam, as required, and especially in light of the HCP-proposed re-routing of Corte Madera Creek flows and expected faster filling in of the reservoir with sediment and increased sediment and woody debris transport to, and downstream of, the dam. This EIS covered action is expected to exacerbate the dam safety issues outlined in our November 5th letter and heighten downstream flooding concerns, as more and larger-sized sediment and woody debris is expected to arrive sooner.

- The EIS includes, and relies upon, an outdated and inaccurate 2008 Biological Opinion report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for Stanford’s Steelhead Habitat Enhancement Project (SHEP). This Biological Opinion fails to consider new information about unpermitted construction, modification and on-going operation of Stanford’s water diversion infrastructure connecting Felt Reservoir and Searsville Dam. This modification exceeds the extent of harm beyond the described scope of the Biological Opinion and causes unpermitted harm to threatened steelhead and their designated Critical Habitat in Corte Madera and San Francisquito Creek. For these reasons, detailed above and in coming EIS comments, we are requesting reinitiation of formal consultation for this outdated Biological Opinion with NMFS and the Corps. Renewed consultation must also include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife as Stanford’s ongoing water infrastructure facilities also directly affect the federally protected red-legged frog, tiger salamander, and San Francisco garter snake, as described in the EIS. The EIS for Stanford's Habitat Conservation Plan should not rely upon this outdated Biological Opinion.

Check back soon for more detailed comments regarding our appeal of federal wildlife agencies Environmental Impact Statement for Stanford's flawed Habitat Conservation Plan!

What can I do?

Please take a quick minute to sign our online petition and submit your comments asking for the withdrawal of this misguided and destructive plan.

Take Action- Please sign the online petition and submit your comment today