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Thursday, July 18, 2024 | Back issues
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One Claim Left in Fight Against Dam

SAN RANCISCO (CN) - Because there's no evidence that endangered snakes and frogs live near Searsville Dam, a federal judge Friday dismissed-two thirds of a lawsuit against its owner, Stanford University.

U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte dismissed two claims from San Francisco-based Our Children's Earth, which accused Stanford of encroaching on habitat for the endangered California red-legged frog and the San Francisco garter snake, in San Mateo County.

"There is no genuine dispute of material fact that San Francisco garter snakes do not currently inhabit the area near Searsville Dam," Laporte wrote, though a 2013 Stanford study indicates the area could support the endangered snake, which hadn't been seen in the area since 1922.

As for the red-legged frog, Laporte said, Our Children's Earth misinterpreted university data that suggested a researcher saw one near the dam in 2007. Actually, the researcher said he might have seen a red-legged frog in the area, but he isn't an expert on frog species, and the university found no evidence of any such frogs in the area in the eight years since, Laporte found.

Laporte said Our Children's Earth misinterpreted university data and incorrectly concluded that Stanford hadn't searched for evidence of the frog since the possible 2007 sighting, but the university tracks only positive observations and simply had none to report since then.

The only other evidence Our Children's Earth provided came from reports of sightings more than a mile away from the dam, and none indicate the frog lives near the dam, Laporte wrote.

Laporte granted Stanford's motion to dismiss those claims against it, but denied the university's request to stay Our Children's Earth's motion for summary judgment regarding the endangered Central California steelhead.

Stanford in April completed its Searsville Alternatives Study, which recommends alternative ways for the endangered Central California Coast Steelhead and other fish to get around the Searsville Dam.

The study suggests rerouting a creek around the dam, or building a fish ladder, or modifying the dam by placing an opening at its base to let fish pass and attenuate high flows.

Stanford said either solution would satisfy Our Children's Earth's demand, and allow sediment now blocked by the dam to flow again, but the project will cost about $100 million and require a permitting process that could take at least two or three years to complete.

Stanford sought a stay to go through the permitting process, but Our Children's Earth said the study has been out for several months and sought summary judgment.

Laporte denied the request for a stay, saying waiting two to three years would be too long a delay.

Spring Valley Water built the Searsville Dam in 1892, and Stanford acquired it in 1914. Built from interlocking cement blocks, it is 260 feet wide and 68 feet high and impounds water from Corte Madera Creek and several others to create the Searsville Reservoir.

Officials for Our Children's Earth and Stanford did not respond to email requests for comment over the weekend.

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