Sunday, November 7, 2010

Taking the long view to save the Moke

The other day, a friend of mine said, "I hope we live long enough to see positive results from your efforts." He was talking about the fight to save the Mokelumne River from new dams and diversions. That effort is led by the Foothill Conservancy, and in my role with that organization, I spend a lot of time on it (quick disclaimer -- this is my personal blog and I'm not speaking for the FC in it).

Recently the Amador County Board of Supervisors voted not to support the designation and to meet with stakeholders to discuss legislative options. While some see that as total defeat for the Wild and Scenic campaign, I take a longer view. A negative person might focus on the "not support" side of the vote. Instead, I'm optimistic that the "meet with stakeholders" part of the decision could lead to a positive result.

Why? After working on Mokelumne conservation for 21 years, I believe that most people in Amador County really do want to keep the river like it is today. Those who dream of new dams for local water are usually brought back to earth once they really understand how much water's in the river, how much is already spoken for, how much dams cost, how the water rights work, and how much water we already have (enough to nearly triple the county's population).

So the question becomes, How do we keep the river the way it is today? The only way I know of is through National Wild and Scenic River designation.

Decisions about dams aren't made in Jackson or San Andreas or even Sacramento -- they're made by appointed bureaucrats at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in D.C. To stop new or larger dams, you have to take away their power. The one tried and true way to do it is with National Wild and Scenic River designation.

Those of us dedicated to protecting the river aren't giving up because of one vote. We know that thousands of local residents and more than 100 small businesses support the designation. We know that city council members, Calaveras County supervisors, Amador Water Agency directors, landowners along the river, and many other individuals are among the supporters. We know that local support has doubled in the last year since East Bay MUD proposed its latest Pardee expansion (the fifth effort to dam the Middle Bar and/or Electra run in the last 35 years).

So we'll slog on, and eventually, we will save this river. If you haven't signed on to support saving the Mokelumne for future generations, please do it today. And if you'd like to share your support with local and regional elected officials, you can use this easy e-mail form.


farmlady said...

Dear Katherine,
I do appreciate your efforts in this fight to save our river. We don't want more dams.
We live near this river and agree that it needs to be protected, but where can I find the guidelines for a "wild and scenic" designation. Will kayaking, hiking and swimming be allowed? Probably. But what of gold panning, sluthing or dredging? Who's activities will be the chosen ones under this designation? Will fishing be off limits?
Where do we find these answers.?
The Collins on Middle Bar Rd.

Katherine said...

Hey, Farmlady: Hope all is well with the two of you.

After designation as a Wild and Scenic River, the federally managed portions of the Mokelumne will continue to be managed to protect the river's "outstandingly remarkable values," which are, depending on the section, cultural resources, water quality and scenic beauty.

The BLM and USFS already manage the eligible segments of the river to protect those ORVs since they have found the river eligible for designation. So we would not expect to see much change in what's allowed on the river today after designation. No one is looking to change current uses of the river.

Wild and Scenic designation does not regulate activities on private land.

In addition, the Wild and Scenic River designation does not trump the Public Trust Doctrine. That ancient legal doctrine, handed down from the Romans to English Common Law to us, says that people own navigable rivers and can use them for navigation and related activities, which have been broadly defined by the courts to include things like swimming, water play, and fishing.

There is a huge amount of information about Wild and Scenic Rivers online at -- the website of the Interagency Wild and Scenic Coordinating Council. There's a link to the text of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act on the Foothill Conservancy website, too -- but don't make the mistake the supervisors did in thinking that sections written for specific rivers would apply to the Mokelumne! That's not how it works at all.

As you know, dredging in the state's rivers is regulated by the California Dept of Fish and Game. The Wild and Scenic designation would not take away their authority to manage dredging. But new mining claims are not allowed on federal lands in the areas of a designated river classified as "wild" (there are three classifications, based on conditions along the river at the time of designation). Those segments are discussed (I think) on the Conservancy website. If not, let me know and I can send you the segment definitions. Existing mining claims can continue to operate on all areas of a designated river.

In addition, legislation for the Mokelumne can be tailored to address local concerns.

Hope that helps. If you want more info, give me a call. I'm in the phone book.

Katherine said...

@Farmlady ... more: I woke up this morning thinking of all the fantastic fishing that takes place on the Wild and Scenic sections of the Rogue, American, Middle Fork Salmon, Deschutes, etc. Fishing is state regulated.

It's important to keep in mind that rivers are not designated Wild and Scenic to lock them up or prevent their use. They're designated to stop new dams and diversions and to maintain the outstanding qualities of the river as they exist today.

If you like status quo on the river, this is the way to keep it.