Widgets Magazine


The case for removing Searsville Dam

As a Stanford grad, newspaper headlines about my alma mater frequently make me proud. The University and its graduates are constantly featured for winning academic awards, achieving the impossible through technological innovation and demonstrating leadership that the entire world will follow. In contrast, recent stories about Stanford’s Searsville Dam and its detrimental impacts to San Francisquito Creek give me concern.

While Stanford has made strides in its environmental management policies, Searsville Dam remains a blemish on Stanford’s sustainability record. This 65-foot dam, which is owned and operated by the University, is located on Stanford’s Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, an area that provides “a refuge to native plants and animals,” according to the University. Ironically, the dam blocks the migration of threatened native steelhead trout that are protected by the Endangered Species Act. As a result, the University has been sued by multiple organizations seeking to protect these native fish and alleging that Stanford is in violation of the Endangered Species Act.

To its credit, Stanford has taken initial steps to address the problem. The University is currently conducting a study to assess its management options, including the possibility of dam removal. It plans to make a decision about whether or not to remove Searsville Dam by the end of 2014.

Dam removal is a proven method for restoring degraded watersheds. By removing the barrier, dam removal restores the ecological and physical connectivity of the creek and reestablishes the cold water habitat that was drowned by the reservoir. Numerous case studies have shown that after dam removal is complete, invasive species decrease and native migratory fish return to the upper watershed, reclaiming their lost habitat. But fish and wildlife aren’t the only beneficiaries — dam removal also makes people safer by removing aging infrastructure that poses serious risks to communities downstream.

Stanford asserts that it is dedicated to following core sustainability principles in all aspects of its operations, including its commitment to “preserve and manage environmental resources to allow the functioning of natural ecosystems and the long-term persistence of native species.” Searsville Dam is clearly in direct conflict with Stanford’s own principles, and it undermines the University’s otherwise strong reputation on sustainability issues.

I am hopeful that, before the end of 2014, I will open the newspaper one morning and read about Stanford’s plan to not only remove its dam and restore San Francisquito Creek, but also to study and showcase the restoration so that dam owners throughout the world can join in following Stanford’s lead.


This piece was originally published in AmericanRivers.org.

Kimberley Milligan ‘91
Contact Kimberly Milligan at kimjmilligan “at” gmail.com.