FERC ruled against Pacific Gas & Electric in January 2004 siding with federal fisheries regulators which wanted more water kept in the Eel river to help restore populations of coho salmon, chinook salmon and steelhead, which are considered endangered. Pacific Gas & Electric says the commission had already agreed with its suggested cutbacks, that the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was unfairly using century-old water flows to calculate what the fish need, and that California’s Fish and Game Commission thought the company’s suggested flows were sufficient to keep the fish population of the river healthy.

PG&E also noted that, under the Endangered Species Act, the federal regulators are supposed to take into account the economic impact of NOAA’s suggested cuts in flow to the project. Increasing the Eel river’s flow means a reduction in the amount of water channelled from the river through a 95-year-old diversion at Cape Horn dam to PG&E’s Potter Valley power plant. It is also the Russian river’s main source of water in the summer. The FERC decision would cut that diversion by an average of 15%.

Round Valley tribes and environmental groups have fought to stop all diversions from the Eel river to the Russian river.

Local officials say the FERC decision would leave Potter Valley and the Ukiah Valley dry in low rainfall years.

Moreover, state and federal fisheries experts disagree on the best flows for the fish, with California’s Fish and Game scientists saying the lower flows in the Eel river are actually better for the fish.