Searsville Dam will stay for now; changes will allow fish passage

Some groups pushing for dam removal don't like the plan

Stanford University on May 1 released a long-awaited report on what it will do with its 123-year-old Searsville Dam, saying its preferred plan is to create an opening at the base of the dam to allow the passage of fish, including endangered steelhead trout, while preserving some of the flood control they say the dam now provides.

The 65-foot tall and 275-foot wide dam is located off Sand Hill Road west of Interstate 280, in the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve on Stanford land, adjacent to Woodside. It holds back Corte Madera Creek to form the reservoir known as Searsville Lake.

The 41-page report says that if the first choice proves unworkable, second choice is to allow the lake to finish filling with sediment, a process already 90 percent complete. Stanford would then create a new stream channel through the stabilized sediment so fish could pass through, either using fish ladders or a rerouted stream channel.

In either case, Stanford would continue using water from the creek. The first alternative would allow eventual removal of the dam.

The report says the most critical aspect of the first alternative is whether or not the 2.7 million cubic yards of sediment now trapped upstream of the dam can either safely travel downstream through San Francisquito Creek to the Bay or be stabilized in place.

Stanford says the permitting process for either alternative will involve multiple agencies, could take years and that doing either project could cost up to $100 million.

Groups that have been urging Stanford to remove the dam said neither of the solutions is a good one. "Poking a hole in an unneeded dam or letting it fill in with sediment are not viable solutions," said Portola Valley's Matt Stoecker of Beyond Searsville Dam.

Mr. Stoecker said the university's proposed solutions "are unlikely to secure permits or attract funding support." He said that recent studies have shown that dam removal, combined with separate floodwater detention ponds, "can provide the greatest ecosystem benefit while also achieving elevated flood protection" that Stanford said it is striving for.

Los Trancos Woods resident and environmentalist Jerry Hearn, who served as co-chair of the Searsville Advisory Group, said the Stanford proposal is not perfect, but could work. "Ultimately, what I would have liked to have seen is the dam no longer being there and the streambed reshaping itself," he said. "I think this approach has the possiblity of getting there."

The issue is very complicated, he said, especially because the dam and reservoir are in the middle of the Jasper Ridge biological preserve and downstream from very highly urbanized area. San Francisquito Creek does not have "a lot of wiggle room for the water and the sediment," he said. "That has been what has been keeping many of us awake at night."

He speculated that it will take at least five years for Stanford to get permission to proceed with either alternative.

Environmental reviews and authorization will be required from many agencies, Stanford says, including: the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the State Water Resources Board, the California Division of Safety of Dams, San Mateo County and the San Francisquito Creek Joint Powers Authority.

The recommendations are the result of four years of work by the Searsville Alternatives Study Steering Committee, made up of university administrators and faculty advised by a group of local officials, environmental advocates, neighborhood groups and stage agencies.

Steve Rothert, California director for American Rivers foundation, said his organization is "concerned that operating a dam with a hole in it will be more troublesome than they expect," he said, citing possible problems with fish passage and sediment accumulation. He said he believes Stanford will ultimately decide to remove the dam. "We expect they will reach that conclusion before too long as resource agencies weigh in," Mr. Rothert said.

Both Mr. Rothert and Mr. Stoecker are members of the Searsville advisory committee.

The report also recommends continued diversion of water from the creeks for Stanford's use.

The plan shifts water storage from Searsville to Felt Reservoir. The report says water now diverted at Searsville would most likely be moved to the existing San Francisquito Creek Pump Station, about 4.5 miles downstream from Searsville Dam.

"The recommendation regarding water diversion and storage is intended to preserve Stanford's rights to creek water diversion and storage considering the effects of climate change, population growth, and drought on the region's water sources," the report says.

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6 people like this
Posted by Matt S
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2015 at 12:46 pm

Poking a hole in an unneeded dam or letting it fill in with sediment are not viable solutions. These are ineffective Band-Aids that will be unlikely to gain permitting or funding support. The troubling thing is that recent studies have shown that dam removal, combined with identified off-stream floodwater detention ponds and floodplain restoration, can provide the most benefit to the ecosystem while also achieving flood protection benefits in line with their preferred hole-in-dam alternative. This may be what Stanford "wants" to do, but that will change when permitting agencies and others weigh in on the feasibility and beneficial uses of these options compared to removing the dam and obtaining the same level of flood protection in a preferable way.

2 people like this
Posted by sedementious (!)
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 1, 2015 at 2:33 pm

its already filled with sediment

3 people like this
Posted by Beyond Searsville Dam
a resident of another community
on May 1, 2015 at 4:20 pm

Beyond Searsville Dam and American Rivers issue a response to this flawed approach for Searsville Dam:

Web Link

2 people like this
Posted by bluedog
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on May 1, 2015 at 9:09 pm

Dam removal is the most irresponsible solution possible. Removal of the 2.7 million cubic yards of sediment would require more invasive construction equipment than this community has ever seen. This dam has been here for 123 years! Furthermore, the flood prevention issues without the dam are almost insurmountable and the multiple agencies still do not have a solution even after the flooding of the last el Nino storms. And as a final thought; Searsville dam and the water rights are private property and in general, I have a problem with more Government meddling.

3 people like this
Posted by Sally J
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 1, 2015 at 9:39 pm


The Stanford plan proposes to transport most of the sediment downstream to the Bay using high flow events, dam removal would be no different. Yes, the dam is old… just like many other outdated things we should not be clinging to anymore. The Searsville, and early JPA, studies identified multiple off-stream detention basins that would provide as much or more flood prevention with dam removal than this Stanford idea. Finally, water rights are NOT private property. Water is a public resource and entities can obtain and retain water rights if they use them in a way that does not degrade public trust resources and put wildlife at risk of extinction. Bad actors with mismanaged dams can lose these rights to "our" water.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on May 2, 2015 at 8:07 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Fish and Game will have a major problem flowing silt downstream. They fine contractors if they allow silt to flow into creeks or into the storm sewer. I question whether they would allow the quantities of silt behind the dam to be let into the creek. If they won't then removal can only be accomplished with heavy equipment and trucks. A lot of them.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on May 2, 2015 at 8:00 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

What happened to all the posters who claimed that the silt was not going to be a problem???

Like this comment
Posted by Andrew
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on May 4, 2015 at 3:49 pm

[Post removed. Please make your points without insulting other posters.]

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

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