Janie Sheppard: Update on Coyote Dam Meeting 9/9/10

Mendocino County

Last night representatives from the local water agencies met to hear a presentation by the Corps of Engineers on its plans for the Coyote Dam at Lake Mendocino.  The public was invited.  Bill and I attended, as did Fifth District Candidate for Supervisor, Dan Hamburg.

Below I report the gist of the meeting.

Local water agencies want to increase the capacity of Lake Mendocino to provide a more dependable source of water, presumably for irrigation.  This year, the Corps has raised the level of the lake to the point where some land-based recreation has disappeared, or is unusable.

A significant portion of the lake is now occupied by sediment, thereby decreasing its capacity to hold water.  Dredging, however, is not a viable option for reasons of expense, stirring up the mercury buried in the sediment, and huge logistical problems in removing the sediment.

Safety issues must be addressed first.   The spillway is undersized, there is some seepage, and the ever-present seismic issue isn’t going away.

Raising the dam remains the most obvious solution, but only after identifying and solving the safety issues.  But, studies addressing safety and the feasibility of raising the dam remain low-priority in terms of allocating the very limited Corps budget.

A proposed “solution” to the money and priority issues is to demonstrate unified local and downstream support for completing the studies and raising the dam.  This would be done by getting boards of trustees of local water agencies to pass identical resolutions in favor of dam raising.  Mike Thompson could then use the resolutions to get Congress to pass a special appropriation that would direct the Corps to finish the studies, and raise the dam.

As the meeting was winding down I brought up land-based recreation.  A genial Corps employee said that in any environmental impact statement the impacts to land-based recreation would be addressed, as if that solved the problem.

The problem is, however, that land-based recreation will disappear if the dam is raised.

The Board of Supervisors and anyone who hikes, mountain bikes, camps, rides horses, or looks at wild flowers at Lake Mendocino should speak up in favor of land-based recreation—NOW, before it’s too late.


Thanks for being alert and attending and reporting on this meeting. It may not be a coincidence that land based recreation groups were not notified of the meeting. I believe you are correct in saying that land based recreation will be all but obliterated by raising the Dam.

I wonder, is dredging still not economically feasible if we factor in that the dam will continue to fill with sediment and probably need to be raised again in 50 years?

    Also, I’m interested if there is a conflict of interest between Janet Pauli and these plans. As far as I know, she is the wife of Bill Pauli, respected ag. person and grape grower.

Thank you Janie for attending this meeting. As we discussed on the
“Saturday” walk, I think that one of the things not being factored
into this discussion is the use of water from Lake Sonoma. Transporting water from Mendocino to Sonoma and Marin Counties when there are many acre feet of “unused” water behind that dam should be in any equation about raising the dam–possibly to the
determent of more than just “land based recreation” here. Sometimes
agencies get fixated on a plan or idea and fail to look beyond it for other posibilities!!

Hi Janie,
I too want to thank you for this report. Can you please publish to whom do we raise our concerns regarding recreation losses as well as Lois’ issue of where the water will go in Sonoma and Marin counties? It may be that we in the Ukiah Valley would be the victims in a catastrophic dam failure, but those counties may be the largest ‘beneficiaries’. Of course, part of the environmental investigation should be a “no build” option, with water savings proposals to make up the water gain a dam would provide, although I need more time to think this EIR comment through.

I don’t know enough about the dredging issue to say that it is infeasible, or not. Certainly, it would be the least disruptive to land-based recreation and for that reason should be explored thoroughly before being discarded.

Re any conflict of interest, since most of the audience at the meeting (and presumably the composition of the water boards) consisted of farmers, it looks like they are driving this issue — at this point, conflict or not. The Corps likely has a broader mandate — to include consideration of land-based recreation — but so long as we land-lubbers remain silent, the water users will gain the upperhand.

Re Pinky’s question of who to communicate with in the Corps, I will have to look into that. Certainly the Board of Supervisors needs to hear from us land-based recreators. Mike Thompson should hear from us as well.

OK everyone there was no conspricay to keep recreators away. I am the originator of the resolution of support for getting the funding necessary to solve the seismic study, spillway upgrade and the recreation areas moved to higher ground so we can use them. The resolution is genric and oes not advocate for raisng of the dam it advocates proper funding to assure the above issues are addressed.

I have been using the water, beaches and trails at Lake Mendocino since 1979. Many years I’ve been out there or more times a week. I abhor the idea that we would lose ground based recreation at the lake.

Please hear and believe that relocating the assesses and ground base amenities is a priority.

Richard– it’s good to know you favor reclocating the land-based recreation facilities and trails. Trouble is, though, that if you look at the boundaries, there’s not much room to relocate if the dam is raised and the lake fills to a higher level.

Thanks, Richard.

Richard is a poor editor