Our Children's Earth Foundation & Ecological Rights Foundation vs. Leland Stanford Junior University

UPSTREAM, February 2014

When wildlife advocates were finally granted access to the Searsville Dam area in February 2014, the site inspection revealed significant watershed impacts of Stanford's dam. Upstream of the dam, tributaries like the Corte Madera Creek (pictured above) had robust flow. Although o.mykiss/rainbow trout are present in the tributaries of the upper watershed, native o.mykiss/steelhead can't access this habitat due to the location of Searsville Dam. 

DOWNSTREAM, February 2014

Unlike the creeks in the upper watershed, the creek downstream of Searsville Dam was mostly dry, with a tangle of angular rocks and stagnant pools not suitable for steelhead habitat or spawning. This photo also shows the Stanford-owned pipeline that carries diverted water to the university's main irrigation reservoir, Felt Lake.

Read more at OCEFoundation.org and EcoRights.org


Stanford's "Lake Water System" for diverting irrigation water from local creeks includes several dams and reservoirs. Searsville, an on-stream dam, impounds the Corte Madera Creek and several other tributaries to San Francisquito Creek. Searsville Dam divides the watershed's o.mykiss population into two distinct segments: land-locked rainbow trout upstream of the dam, and threatened ocean-going steelhead downstream of the dam.

Stanford's "Lake Water System" for diverting irrigation water from local creeks includes several dams and reservoirs. Searsville, an on-stream dam, impounds the Corte Madera Creek and several other tributaries to San Francisquito Creek. Searsville Dam divides the watershed's o.mykiss population into two distinct segments: land-locked rainbow trout upstream of the dam, and threatened ocean-going steelhead downstream of the dam.

Stanford campus map: green areas are irrigated with water diverted from local creeks. Blue areas are currently irrigated with potable drinking water, but Stanford has indicated that it plans to convert some of these areas to "lake water" irrigation soon. Stanford officials argue that using creek water for campus irrigation is "sustainable," because it reduces the university's reliance on water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. 

Stanford campus map: green areas are irrigated with water diverted from local creeks. Blue areas are currently irrigated with potable drinking water, but Stanford has indicated that it plans to convert some of these areas to "lake water" irrigation soon. Stanford officials argue that using creek water for campus irrigation is "sustainable," because it reduces the university's reliance on water from the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. 


The San Francisquito Creek provides some of the best remaining habitat in the Bay Area for wild steelhead because it connects to the San Francisco Bay and it has remained relatively natural (i.e. it hasn't been lined with cement or channelized) despite more than a century of development in surrounding areas. Unfortunately, it was also named the 5th most endangered waterway in the nation in 2014, and native steelhead trout [o.mykiss] have been listed and protected by the Endangered Species Act since 1997.

2013: Menlo Park residents found a dead adult steelhead in the San Francisquito Creek bed. Photo courtesy of Mike Lanza. More at http://www.stanforddaily.com/2014/12/21/stanford-should-abandon-the-searsville-dam/

2013: Menlo Park residents found a dead adult steelhead in the San Francisquito Creek bed. Photo courtesy of Mike Lanza. More at http://www.stanforddaily.com/2014/12/21/stanford-should-abandon-the-searsville-dam/

1988: Jim Johnson of the Friends of San Francisquito Creek found two dead steelhead (approx. 30" each) in a dewatered portion of the creek, confirming that these native fish still "come home" to use the waterway for seasonal spawning--even during drought years. Jim Johnson's photos and outreach efforts resulted in several subsequent actions to restore steelhead habitat. More at Palo Alto Online and YouTube: A Creek Runs Through It: The Story of the San Francisquito 

1988: Jim Johnson of the Friends of San Francisquito Creek found two dead steelhead (approx. 30" each) in a dewatered portion of the creek, confirming that these native fish still "come home" to use the waterway for seasonal spawning--even during drought years. Jim Johnson's photos and outreach efforts resulted in several subsequent actions to restore steelhead habitat.

More at Palo Alto Online and YouTube: A Creek Runs Through It: The Story of the San Francisquito 

2012: two dead steelhead were found in a dewatered portion of the San Francisquito Creek. Photo courtesy of Matt Stoecker. More at Bay Nature: Steelhead trout flopping around in dried up Palo Alto creek

2012: two dead steelhead were found in a dewatered portion of the San Francisquito Creek. Photo courtesy of Matt Stoecker. More at Bay Nature: Steelhead trout flopping around in dried up Palo Alto creek



Key Documents

 

5/17/2005: A formal "Biological Opinion" from NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) describes requirements for Stanford's so-called Steelhead Habitat Enhancement Project, which Stanford actually used to increase water diversions from local streams. Subsequent analysis of Stanford's diversion records revealed that the university diverted even more water than was allowed, regularly violating the minimum bypass flow requirements NMFS outlined. Minimum bypass flows are intended to protect steelhead habitat from becoming dangerously dewatered downstream of Stanford's diversion point. 

 

12/6-7/2010: Report of conversations between Stanford and NMFS, December 2010; Stanford refused to provide basic information to regulatory agencies, even though the information was available, because Stanford officials didn't want environmental groups or members of the public to get access to the facts. In these conversations, NMFS and Stanford acknowledged the university's "take" of steelhead downstream of Searsville Dam. Key excerpts:

[Stanford] asked what would happen if NMFS found out that [Searsville Dam] is producing impacts to the downstream reach and effecting steelhead and habitat? [...] [What NMFS] normally do[es] in those situations is request that the applicant modify their diversion in a way that minimizes those effects. Stanford wants to avoid [modifying Searsville Dam to minimize effects to steelhead downstream] because [Stanford is] afraid it will take a long time to work out a new diversion scheme and they don’t want to do that.
Stanford said the data [spill data, reservoir elevation, diversion rates] is available, but [Stanford is] not ready to disclose it to NMFS because it then becomes publicly available information. [NMFS] explained that third parties may have grounds to sue, particularly related to: no bypass measures at the dam, dredging operations, and diversion rates. 
Stanford said they understand the threat of a lawsuit is real due to their continued take at the dam, but they are willing to take the risk. Stanford was concerned with what would happen to their pre-1914 water right if they had to alter their diversion scheme [at Searsville Dam] to minimize effects to fish.

12/7/2012: NOAA/National Marine Fisheries Service opens investigation into the habitat impacts of Searsville Dam after more than 5 years of receiving complaints from individual watershed residents and from environmental groups. NMFS found probable habitat impacts of the Searsville Dam and good cause to investigate further, but the investigation was closed in May 2013 before complete due to the agency's failure to allocate necessary resources.

 

1/29/2013 [Amended 5/20/2013]: Legal complaint filed against Stanford University

 

12/11/2013: Testimony of Stanford's Conservation Program Manager Alan Launer shows that he knows very little about steelhead and steelhead habitat needs

12/20/2013: Testimony of Stanford's Associate Director of Water Services and Civil Infrastructure Tom Zigterman

 

3/11/2014: Legal complaint filed against the National Marine Fisheries Service

 

6/3/2014: Re-initiation of work for Stanford Clean Water Act permit: formal letter from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers explaining next steps after Stanford failed to restore creek banks and surrounding areas as the university had agreed to, and as was required by Stanford's permit.

 

1/16/2015: Court order to proceed with process to remove Lagunita Diversion Dam: after more than 15 years of pressure from local environmental groups, watershed residents, and regulatory agencies, Stanford finally agreed to take the next steps toward removing the defunct and long-abandoned Lagunita Dam. 

 

3/30/2015: Court finds National Marine Fisheries Service in violation of Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"): U.S. Judge Conti stated that “[t]he record is clear, undisputed, and troubling. The Fisheries Service's determination on Plaintiffs' [FOIA] requests were, respectively, 295, 43, eight, and 99 days overdue." At issue in the FOIA requests that the court considered were documents and correspondence related to Stanford University’s management of wildlife habitat on campus, including areas that have been impacted by the 125-year old Searsville Dam. In addition to missing all of the applicable FOIA deadlines, the court also found that NMFS repeatedly withheld information from the environmental groups without providing sufficient justification for doing so.