On June 30, 2011, PG&E turned the flow of the North Fork Feather River in California down to 6% of what it had been the day before, and in turn destroyed virtually all of 2011's viable foothill yellow-legged frog egg masses below the Poe hydroelectric dam. These frogs have evolved in unregulated riparian systems where they know the seasonal rate at which peak flows will gradually recent to base flows, and lay their egg masses at an appropriate depth so that they will not dry out. Frogs have not yet adapted, however, to the unpredictable and extreme flow regimes that hydroelectric operations create. In June of this year, foothill yellow-legged frogs laid their eggs in the Feather River, where flows on the Poe reach had peaked daily around 2,000 cubic feet per second ("cfs") during the last two weeks of the month. When PG&E operators dropped the flows to a mere 114 cfs on June 30th, the egg masses were left high and dry, destroying any chance of them becoming tadpoles.
Foothill yellow-legged frogs are listed federally as a "Species of Concern", in California as a "Species of Special Concern", and are considered to be "Sensitive" by the U.S. Forest Service. They are one of the best species to indicate whether a healthy flow regime is in place on a regulated river.
American Whitewater and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance ("CSPA") have been steady participants in the relicensing process for the Poe Hydroelectric Project (FERC #2017). The devastating impacts to the 2011 foothill yellow-legged frog egg population were announced by PG&E at a meeting on July 15th. AW and CSPA immediately called on the California State Water Resources Control Board to use its Clean Water Act Authority to protect these frogs from similar events in the future. Additionally, on July 29th AW and CSPA filed a letter with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ("FERC") calling upon the agency to require a flow regime for the Poe Hydroelectric Project that protects frogs and by default, other aquatic life. We also urged PG&E to immediately employ management measures and protocols to prevent this from happening again. To read the letter, see the "Documents" section on the right.
PG&E responded to us promptly, promising an investigation into the incident and the development of management measures. We will continue to track the issue and advocate for the restoration of a more natural recession limb after high flow events.
CSPA and AW letter to FERC 2011-07-29