It’s official. The Ecological Rights Foundation and Our Children’s Earth Foundation have filed suit against Stanford University for allegedly violating the Endangered Species Act. Stanford University, which acquired Searsville Dam in 1919, has operated the dam and has been drawing water from the reservoir.
The suit claims that the dam and Stanford University are responsible for reduced flows, increased siltation and degraded habitat in San Francisquito Creek. These conditions reduce the native steelhead’s ability to reproduce and are in direct violation of the Endangered Species Act, which Steelhead have been listed as, since 1997.
Stanford, allegedly draws twenty percent of the University’s golf course, landscaping and athletic field irrigation from the reservoir. This reduction in the amount of water flowing into the creek below, reduces the amount of aquatic vegetation, which lowers the oxygen levels. The creek is subject to warmer temperatures, due to it’s decreased depth and solar radiation. In addition, the artificially created reservoir hosts populations of predatory fish which migrate from the reservoir to the creek and feed on steelhead fry. All of these factors are detrimental to steelhead at any point in their life cycle.
Siltation is a typical result of damned watersheds. Silt is collected behind the dam and released into the creek or river below, when flows increase. During heavy rains and snowmelt scenarios that normally occur in the Pacific Northwest, large flows usually flush silt out of a free flowing river. In damed watersheds, like San Francisquito Creek, these heavy flows are controlled and depleted because of the dam and irrigation. The silt collects in the streambed below, reducing the amount of gravel and steelhead habitat, which is vital to reproduction.
The environmental groups state that Stanford can not legally operate Searsville Dam without an Endangered Species Act permit. This permit can only be granted by the National Marine Fisheries Service and would impose important requirements on the University to protect the steelhead and the other endangered animals of San Francisquito Creek.