News

Water board tells Stanford it supports removing Searsville Dam

Endanged species threatened by the dam, agency says

The San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board has sent Stanford University a letter saying the agency supports "alternatives that focus on dam removal" as the university moves toward a decision on what to do with Searsville Dam and its reservoir.

The dam is located off Sand Hill Road west of Interstate 280, in the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve on Stanford land.

The letter is dated March 30 and signed by Bruce Wolfe, executive officer of the water board, which is a state agency.

"We have been, and continue to be, supportive of alternatives that focus on dam removal," the letter says. The dam "remains a complete barrier to steelhead migration, greatly reducing the amount of habitat that is accessible, and placing this steelhead population at much greater risk of extinction," it says.

The dam was built between 1888 and 1892 by the Spring Valley Water Company, and was supposed to supply water to San Francisco, but the water was foul-tasting and was never used as drinking water.

Stanford acquired the dam and reservoir in 1919.

In 2013 Stanford announced it was studying the fate of the dam because the reservoir is more than 90 percent filled with silt and could be completely dried up in another 20 years.

Among the options being studied are removing the dam, restoring the reservoir through dredging, allowing the reservoir to completely fill in, partially excavating the reservoir, or diverting water to another area such as Felt Lake.

Stanford now uses water diverted by the dam, when water is available, for uses such as irrigation.

Stanford had said it would make a decision on the fate of Searsville by the end of 2014, but the university has not yet made an announcement.

In the meantime, environmental groups have sued the university, saying the dam and water diversions by Stanford are threatening endangered species, including steelhead trout and the red-legged frog.

Last year the American Rivers foundation named San Francisquito Creek the fifth most endangered river in the US because of Searsville Dam.

"Stanford University's 65-foot Searsville Dam blocks threatened steelhead from reaching 20 miles of habitat upstream, impairs water quality, and poses flooding risks for local communities," the organization said.

The organization Beyond Searsville Dam has been fighting for the dam's removal for years. Matt Stoeker, director of the group, and one of the producers of the documentary "Damnation," said the letter from the water board is "a powerful message supporting the removal of Searsville Dam, while also questioning the feasibility of other potential alternative futures for the dam."

Mr. Stoecker said that "the letter also stresses the importance of safely restoring the flow of beneficial sediment downstream for the health of San Francisquito Creek and to improve the resiliency of listed wildlife, San Francisco Bay wetlands and coastal communities facing the adverse impacts of climate change and sea level rise."

The letter was addressed to Jean McCown, director of community relations at Stanford and co-chair of the committee looking at alternatives for the dam. Ms. McCown did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

Comments

6 people like this
Posted by Shelly
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 2, 2015 at 12:33 pm

Thank you Almanac for your ongoing coverage of this historic opportunity!
Stop dragging your feet Stanford. The dam is a disaster, you have better options, you claim to be good land and water stewards, the dam will come down. Please do the right thing and quickly, for our watershed and our community.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 2, 2015 at 3:38 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Hopefully people realize that when the dam is removed there will be thousands of truckloads of sediment that will have to be hauled through Portola Valley and adjacent communities - be prepared and don't claim that you did not demand this happen.


2 people like this
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Apr 2, 2015 at 4:23 pm

And how would this be different from the times when Jacques Littlefield had his military vehicles trucked through Portola Valley's narrow roads, Peter?


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 2, 2015 at 4:28 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"how would this be different from the times when Jacques Littlefield had his military vehicles trucked through Portola Valley's narrow roads,"

What about "thousands of truckloads of sediment" don't you understand?


1 person likes this
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Apr 2, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Which part of "this has happened before, on numerous occasions" do YOU not understand, sir?

Let me remind you that Portola Valley is not some sacred site. Littlefield's activities proved that.

(part removed.)


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 2, 2015 at 4:50 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Which part of "this has happened before, on numerous occasions"do YOU not understand, sir?"

1 - Just that you never made such a statement.

2 - Numerous does not equal thousands.


1 person likes this
Posted by Stop the Trolls
a resident of another community
on Apr 2, 2015 at 5:04 pm

1 - (part removed. Please post without negative characterizations of other posters.) Mr. Littlefield's ... collection reached to over 300 vehicles. Which translates into quite the number of VERY heavy trucks maneuvering through Portola Valley.

2 - A distinction without a difference.

(part removed.)


9 people like this
Posted by Len
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Apr 2, 2015 at 5:07 pm

Peter,
Your definitive statements show a clear lack of knowledge about the issue and desire to try and scare people with misinformation. Searsville Dam is not in Portola Valley and any project equipment would use a direct path from Highway 280 to the large Sand Hill Road and direct access to Searsville and Jasper Ridge access points. They would not go through Portola Valley or any neighborhoods or small residential streets. In addition, sediment management options include stabilizing sediment on site since much is under decades of forested growth and carefully transporting sediment downstream with higher winter flows and phased lowering. Both of these options are being used extensively with dam removals around the country. In fact, hauling sediment away in trucks is used much less than these other two options being considered for Searsville. Material hauled away may be relatively small compared to the other two sediment management options and limited to the concrete dam and a small amount of sediment. Sediment and woody debris would also be used to recontour the site and carry out the restoration and native plant reverberation efforts. Please don't interject your false scare tactics here.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 2, 2015 at 5:21 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Sediment refers to the material that is below the surface of the lake - by definition that is not forested.

"transporting sediment downstream with higher winter flows and phased lowering" requires lots of rainfall, actually many, many years of rainfall. And, notably, we are not getting much of that lately.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 2, 2015 at 5:29 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

To put this into perspective:

"The reservoir has lost over 90% of its original water storage capacity as roughly 1.5 million cubic yards of sediment has filled it in" per Wikipedia.

A large dump truck carries about 10 cubic yards and a tandem carries about 18 cubic yards.

Removing the entire 1,500,000 cubic yards would require 150,000 truck loads.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 2, 2015 at 7:17 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Given my experience in construction, those in control of the creeks DO NOT want sediment washed down the creeks. That leads me to believe that washing sediment down the creek is NOT an option. That means it will have to be excavated and hauled away. Peter's calculations are only correct if the end dump has a "booster", Otherwise they can only carry about 7 yards. A transfer or "tandem" can carry about 18 yards. Any way you slice it you are looking at a boat load of trucks taking silt from the dam. If you live in that area and want to see the dam gone you better be prepared for a ton of truck traffic.

That being said, if they're going to haul off all that silt, why would they take the dam down? Once the silt is gone it returns to its original usefulness. Just a thought.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 2, 2015 at 8:39 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

One other thing. A yard in the ground doesn't equal a yard hauled off. You have to figure at least a 25% "fluff factor." A yard of dirt in the ground expands when it is excavated. Add 25% to the number of trucks figured to remove the silt from behind the dam. Still needs to be done, but let's be realistic about the number of trucks required. It is a lot.


2 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Apr 3, 2015 at 1:05 pm

Reality Check is a registered user.

Wait a minute. The reality is that if the dam were removed, removing all the silt would be overkill. Like any dried out or drained reservoir, the muddy/silted up bottom would dry out and very quickly be covered with naturally occurring weeds and vegetation to stabilize it. The natural creek flow would very quickly and naturally cut a comparatively very narrow channel across the former reservoir surface, washing some of the silt downstream ... but vast majority of it would solidify and and stay put, constituting new "ground".

Also, the shortest, most obvious path for truck traffic would exit Stanford's Jasper Ridge property and take Sand Hill Road from Lakeshore Drive out to I-280. That and that nowhere near every cubic yard of silt need (or should) be removed means it's not as big a deal as Mr. Carpenter is making it out to be.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 3, 2015 at 1:14 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Like any dried out or drained reservoir, the muddy/silted up bottom would dry out and very quickly be covered with naturally occurring weeds and vegetation to stabilize it."

Actually, regardless of any surface vegetation, the sedimentation of the depth that exists behind the dam would be geologically very unstable and prone to a massive mudslide.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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