On Thursday night, the group “Beyond Searsville Dam” held an auction event in Palo Alto titled, “Give a Dam!” to raise money to evaluate and consider the removal of Stanford University’s Searsville Dam.
Beyond Searsville Dam is a nonprofit coalition of individuals, community groups and businesses; it states that its mission is to remove the dam in a manner that is beneficial to protecting creek-side communities and improving watershed health.
Beyond Searsville Dam argues that the 65-foot tall dam is a concern to the San Fransquito Creek watershed and greater San Francisco Bay for several reasons. As of right now, the Searsville Dam has lost over 90 percent of its original water storage capacity because of the build-up of approximately 1.5 million cubic yards of sediment, originally bound for the bay, filling in the reservoir.
Five Stanford scholars were appointed to a commission to study the dam in May of 2011. A previous report in 2007 determined that the removal of the dam would have harmful ecological effects on the surrounding biosphere.
“There are many complicated issues involved in Searsville Dam and Reservoir, and it is very important to the university that we consider possible future actions with great care,” said Jean McCown, director of community relations, in the Stanford Report in May.
“Right now, there is a lot of misinformation out there about Searsville Dam,” McCown said. “Our hope is that this faculty committee will assure that the study examines all the issues so that it presents a thoughtful and well-reasoned assessment of potential alternatives.”
According to “Give a Dam!”, the dam and its reservoir do not offer drinking water, flood control or hydropower, and it is off limits to the public.
“Give a Dam!” was one of the first major fundraiser events for Beyond Searsville Dam. Matt Stoecker, the director of Beyond Searsville Dam, said he had not made a monetary goal for the event.
“We made a lot more than I expected just through ticket selling, and there is much more money that went into the donations and the auctions,” Stoeker said.
Not only has the 120-year old dam lost its original function, but it also blocks the migration of steelhead trout and other native fish and aquatic species from accessing the largest spawning and rearing stream in the watershed. Additionally, the artificial reservoir habitat supports exotic species that compete with and prey upon native species.
With the removal of the dam and its still water habitat, the valley–made up of six converging streams that had been buried–can be restored. Restoration of this valley can provide flood protection by naturally retaining winter water flows and releasing them gradually later on, creating an excellent wetland habitat. Furthermore, the trapped sediment caught in the Searsville Dam can go toward wetland restoration projects in San Francisco Bay, minimizing costs to efforts of both the dam removal and wetland restoration.
Over 200 people attended the event, many of whom were associated with Stanford University in some capacity.
The money that was raised during this event will be used for three immediate purposes: to fund a full-time staff to help Beyond Searsville Dam, as Stoecker had been working without pay for long hours for the coalition, to create a short documentary that will help inform the public and to help pay legal fees so that their attorney could continue to work with them to point out the inadequate conservation plan the maintenance of the Searsville Dam entailed.
“There was an uncertainty,” Stoecker added, referring to what would happen after dam removal. “We didn’t know what would happen. But now that’s not true. Now we know that the river renews itself.”
Stoecker gave a few solutions regarding the removal of the Searsville Dam: the concrete foundations could be completely removed or some concrete could be left so as to stabilize the leftover sediment.
Stoecker also mentioned other benefits that could arise from the removal of the Searsville Dam for Stanford. He suggested that after the dam was removed, a bridge could be built above the valley so that students could do observational research on the restored river environment below, and the Felt Reservoir could expand, even double its capacity.
“If you want the government to change, you have to change the corporations. If you want the corporations to change, you have to change the consumers,” said Yvon Chouinard, the key-note speaker for this event and the founder of Patagonia.
Chouinard emphasized “public involvement” and said he believed that the main reason why there was an uncertainty about the removal of the dam was because of “ignorance.” He also spoke about past dam removals and their immediate benefits, which he hoped Stanford could help realize.