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Stanford’s operation of Searsville Dam under federal investigation

Courtesy Beyond Searsville Dam Coalition

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 

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