Stanford’s operation of Searsville Dam under federal investigation

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is investigating Stanford’s operation of Searsville Dam in order to determine whether the University has violated the Endangered Species Act by blocking steelhead trout from migrating to spawning streams.

Courtesy Beyond Searsville Dam Coalition

The Searsville Dam, in the Jasper Park Biological Preserve, is owned and operated by Stanford. Some of the water from the adjacent lake is used to irrigate Stanford’s golf course and other facilities. It was once a recreational area but a 1998 study showed the dam trapped sediment in Searsville Lake; today, the lake carries less than 10% of its former capacity.

The 65-foot dam also blocks steelhead trout, categorized as a threatened species by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), from migrating to their historical habitat.

According to Matt Stoeker, director of the Beyond Searsville Dam Coalition, a nonprofit organization that advocates for the removal of the dam, the University was tin-eared in the face of community pressure to make the dam more environmentally friendly.

“While we’re disappointed that Stanford chose to take a path of resistance, avoidance and lack of collaboration for so many years, we are happy to see that NMFS has decided that enough is enough and has opened an investigation,” Stoeker said in a press release. “This investigation punctuates a decade of missed opportunities by Stanford.”

The University’s 2010 Habitat Conservation Plan did not recommend any action on the Searsville Dam, prompting the University to assemble a committee to investigate the dam’s future. The committee of five faculty members includes Chris Field, a biology professor and faculty director for the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve; Jeffrey Koseff, professor in the School of Engineering and the director of the Woods Institute for the Environment; Pamela Matson, dean of the School of Earth Sciences and a professor in environmental studies; Barton Thompson Jr., a professor of natural resources law and the director of the Woods Institute and Richard White, an American history professor.

The committee is due to report their findings by the end of 2013.

This story will be updated 

About Edward Ngai

Edward Ngai is a senior staff writer at The Stanford Daily. Previously, he has worked as a news desk editor, staff development editor and columnist. He was president and editor-in-chief of The Daily for Vol. 244 (2013-2014). Edward is a junior from Vancouver, Canada studying political science. This summer, he is the Daniel Pearl Memorial Intern at the Wall Street Journal.
  • M. W.

    Great work Stanford Daily for exposing the misguided hypocrisy within. You’re reporting on this critical issue is appreciated!

  • C.L.C.

    It’s good to see the Stanford Daily bringing this issue to light. Hopefully NMFS will get Stanford fired up about the treasure Stanford holds. Salmon and steelhead.recovery in a Bay Area stream. How awesome is that!

  • Outrage in Palo Alto!

    It is an outrage the University is allowed to trample the rights of the little harmless endangered trout fish.

  • Anon

    Can’t tell if previous three comments sarcasm or poorly-veiled posts by members of the Beyond Searsville Dam coalition…

  • PT

    Nice catch Anon! I definitely think you caught a few Beyond Searsville Damn people secretly commenting on this article.

  • Will

    PT and Anon, Why would Beyond Searsville Dam coalition members make secret posts about this issue they care deeply about? BSD has over 3000 supporters and over 3 dozen member groups in the coalition. Stanford is the outfit being investigated, and in part due to secrecy about the extent of their operations and recent construction without proper permits. Speaking of secrecy, does “Anon” stand for Anonymous?

  • Nicholas Baldo

    My previous comment seems to have been deleted along with the others, so I’ll rehash.

    Steelhead do fine in the current creek, and removing the dam wouldn’t help them much at all. Given how unpredictable the evolution of an ecosystem is, a major disruption could easily hurt the trout. There are also tons of other species that need Searsville Lake and would be adversely effected by dam removal.

    Stoeker and group present a one-sided case that devalues the lacustrine ecosystem and grossly exaggerates the dangers and drawbacks of the status quo. I would love to see another article that presents the views of the Stanford ecologists who’s job it is to protect endangered species, and who are shaping dam policy.

  • Matt Stoecker

    Hi Nicholas,

    Steelhead do not do “fine” in the creek, or region for that matter, and are a threatened species listed under the Endangered Species Act. In addition, the impassable Searsville Dam has cut off almost 20 miles of former spawning and rearing habitat or about 1/3 of San Francisquito Creek. In addition, Stanford has no dedicated flow releases below the dam for steelhead or other listed species such as red-legged frogs. The dam also degrades water quality and habitat downstream all the way to the SF Bay. These and other serious forms of ecosystem degradation caused by the dam are outlined in numerous reports conducted by leading scientist, including Stanford’s own biologists and consultants.

    Recent dam removal efforts in Washington (Elwha River and White Salmon River), Oregon (Rogue River and Sandy River), Maine (Penobscot River and Kennebec River), and California (Battle Creek and our own San Francisquito Creek) and the associated monitoring efforts led by USGS and other leading scientific agencies and university’s show that dam removal leads to a predicatable and quantifiable transition from artificial to natural ecosystems and recovery of native species. The above dam removal’s have seen salmon and steelhead return upstream of the former dam site immediately and increase in wild, native, fisheries.

    You mention “tons of other species that need Searsville ‘Lake’ “. However, the reservoir is dominated by non-native and classified invasive species such as bullfrogs, bass, and crawfish, which even Stanford’s recent Habitat Conservation Plan and other reports acknowledge are a major limiting factor for native species and the “source” of these invasive species is Searsville Reservoir. Stanford has no measures in place to prevent their annual dispersal downstream and throughout the watershed.

    You state that I, and our coalition comprised of dozens of professional ecologists, exaggerate the drawbacks of the dam, but you provide no examples. Please provide any examples of such exaggeration.

    We too would like to hear from any Stanford scientist that will argue the ecological benefits of the dam and artificial (and disappearing) reservoir compared to the past and potentially future, restored native ecosystem. We welcome this discussion and article. Thanks

    -Matt Stoecker

    Ecologist and Owner, Stoecker Ecological LLC
    Director, Beyond Searsville Dam

  • Matt Stoecker

    Hi Nicholas,

    Steelhead do not do “fine” in the creek, or region for that matter, and are a threatened species listed under the Endangered Species Act. In addition, the impassable Searsville Dam has cut off almost 20 miles of former spawning and rearing habitat or about 1/3 of San Francisquito Creek. In addition, Stanford has no dedicated flow releases below the dam for steelhead or other listed species such as red-legged frogs. The dam also degrades water quality and habitat downstream all the way to the SF Bay. These and other serious forms of ecosystem degradation caused by the dam are outlined in numerous reports conducted by leading scientist, including Stanford’s own biologists and consultants.

    Recent dam removal efforts in Washington (Elwha River and White Salmon River), Oregon (Rogue River and Sandy River), Maine (Penobscot River and Kennebec River), and California (Battle Creek and our own San Francisquito Creek) and the associated monitoring efforts led by USGS and other leading scientific agencies and university’s show that dam removal leads to a predicatable and quantifiable transition from artificial to natural ecosystems and recovery of native species. The above dam removal’s have seen salmon and steelhead return upstream of the former dam site immediately and increase in wild, native, fisheries.

    You mention “tons of other species that need Searsville ‘Lake’ “. However, the reservoir is dominated by non-native and classified invasive species such as bullfrogs, bass, and crawfish, which even Stanford’s recent Habitat Conservation Plan and other reports acknowledge are a major limiting factor for native species and the “source” of these invasive species is Searsville Reservoir. Stanford has no measures in place to prevent their annual dispersal downstream and throughout the watershed.

    You state that I, and our coalition comprised of dozens of professional ecologists, exaggerate the drawbacks of the dam, but you provide no examples. Please provide any examples of such exaggeration.

    We too would like to hear from any Stanford scientist that will argue the ecological benefits of the dam and artificial (and disappearing) reservoir compared to the past and potentially future, restored native ecosystem. We welcome this discussion and article. Thanks

    -Matt Stoecker

    Ecologist and Owner, Stoecker Ecological LLC

    Director, Beyond Searsville Dam

    Founder, San Francisquito Watershed Council’s Steelhead Task Force

Advertisment ad adsense adlogger