Drought Drying up Eel River to Record Low Levels

Drought Drying up Eel River to Record Low Levels

Severe Drought conditions in California has dried up the Eel River in northwest California to the point where water is no longer coming to the surface near the city of Fortuna.

Zane Ruddy, a biologist with the National Marine Fisheries Service explained that certain stretches along the river can dry up on the upper Eel on an annual basis, “but down here in the lower area by the ocean, it wasn’t really expected to go dry.” Ruddy claims that there are no records showing that this section of the river has gone dry in previous years.

The river and fisheries expert told the Times-Standard, that the lower part of the river near Fortuna “tells you what is happening upstream.” The fact that flowing water can’t be seen on the surface doesn’t mean that the river is totally dry. Rudy says that there just isn’t enough water to fill the gravel that lies underneath the river bed.

“There is a lot of water still flowing beneath,” he said. “But when the water makes it to the lower Eel, in order for there to be surface flow, the water needs to fill up the gravel bar.”

Matt Goldsworthy, another fisheries biologist, said that the Potter Valley Project provided extra flows to the Eel. “Flows have been augmented — that is the only reason we are not at record lows in the main stem.” Moreover, Pacific Gas and Electric Co released additional water in August to enhance conditions for the fish.

Scott Greacen, executive director of Friends of the Eel River, says that the drought’s effects on the river are not yet unprecedented, but that conditions can get worse. “If we don’t get rain this fall, we are going to have a very serious situation,” he asserted. “The fact that fish can survive in the cooler bottoms of pools doesn’t mean that you are going to have good survival rates.”


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