Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Battle Heats Up Over Stanford Watering Golf Course Instead of Protecting Endangered Steelhead During Extreme Drought

A battle is heating up between Stanford University and environmentalists over the increasingly controversial Searsville Dam.

This 65-foot, 122-year-old structure, 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.” Yet, the dam blocks the migration of threatened native steelhead trout that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Earlier this year, the national river conservation group, American Rivers, named the downstream portion of San Francisquito Creek the “fifth most endangered river in the United States,” citing Searsville Dam as the culprit. Learn more in the following American Rivers video:

Stanford touts itself as being a leader in global sustainability, yet they have regularly diverted water from this endangered species habitat to water their golf course and other campus landscaping, and often run afoul of environmental regulatory agencies regarding their habitat protection efforts. And despite a temporary halt in diversions from Searsville Dam due to historically low water levels, the university’s land and buildings department has plans to expand its use of water from local creeks to irrigate the lawns of faculty housing.

Searsville Dam and its downstream water diversions, exacerbated by the extreme drought conditions, have dramatically reduced flows in San Francisquito Creek and its tributaries, harming fish by impeding upstream migration, reducing habitat area, causing excessive warming of the creek waters and blocking the flow of gravels and natural woody debris needed to create steelhead habitat. During this year’s rainy season, the creek below Searsville Dam was bone dry because the reservoir never reached its spillover capacity, which represents a potentially catastrophic situation for the migrating fish.

Right now there are two pending lawsuits related to the environmental impact of Searsville Dam on the creek and its tributaries. The first, in the discovery phase, was filed against Stanford in January 2013 by two Northern California-based environmental organizations, Our Children’s Earth and the Ecological Rights Foundation. The suit alleges that the dam prevents steelhead from migrating up San Francisquito Creek, while Stanford's use of water from the reservoir degrades habitat downstream by reducing water levels. The plaintiffs want Stanford to curb its use of water and implement a plan to allow the fish to get past the dam, either by creating a bypass or removing the structure altogether.

The second lawsuit was filed in March by the same plaintiffs, this time against the National Marine Fisheries Service for failing to enforce the Endangered Species Act. According to Christopher Sproul, the lead attorney in the case, “Stanford should no longer be authorized to take water out of these two diversions, particularly in the face of the worst drought in California’s history. The critical ecological function of steelhead habitat for a quarter-mile below the dam has been crushed, and habitat farther down the creek degraded, placing the local population of steelhead at great risk.”

Increasing evidence of Stanford’s violations is surfacing, as more information related to the lawsuits comes to light. A timeline demonstrating the university’s lack of reporting to the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the California State Water Resources Control Board can be found here.

In the meantime, a coalition of environmental groups and a growing group of Stanford alumni are calling for the university to remove Searsville Dam as soon as possible, while addressing other obsolete fish barriers and infrastructure in order to restore critical habitat and reclaim miles of historic spawning ground for threatened steelhead trout.

Credit: Save Stanford Steelhead

The university is currently conducting a study to assess its management options, and plans to make a decision on the removal of Searsville Dam sometime later this year.

In the end, that choice will offer a clear lens on what Stanford values.

Protecting threatened steelhead?

Or green lawns?

 

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Moroccan patients who recovered from the novel coronavirus disease celebrate with medical staff as they leave the hospital in Sale, Morocco, on April 3, 2020. AFP / Getty Images

By Tom Duszynski

The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.

In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.

Read More Show Less
Reef scene with crinoid and fish in the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Reinhard Dirscherl / ullstein bild / Getty Images

By Elizabeth Claire Alberts

The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A daughter touches her father's head while saying goodbye as medics prepare to transport him to Stamford Hospital on April 02, 2020 in Stamford, Connecticut. He had multiple COVID-19 symptoms. John Moore / Getty Images

Across the country, the novel coronavirus is severely affecting black people at much higher rates than whites, according to data released by several states, as The New York Times reported.

Read More Show Less
Four rolls of sourdough bread are arranged on a surface. Photo by Laura Chase de Formigny and food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post / Getty Images

By Zulfikar Abbany

Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A coral reef in Egypt's Red Sea. Tropical ocean ecosystems could see sudden biodiversity losses this decade if emissions are not reduced. Georgette Douwma / Stone / Getty Images

The biodiversity loss caused by the climate crisis will be sudden and swift, and could begin before 2030.

Read More Show Less