What a difference one year can make! Last October, we were pretty discouraged about our work to protect the Mokelumne River with state Wild and Scenic River designation. Legislation that would have done that, State Senate Bill 1199, had come very close to passing the Legislature, only to be killed in a procedural move. We were frustrated by the political process, unhappy with the terrible press coverage, and beyond upset by the way public funds were used to sow disinformation and confusion about the bill in Sacramento.
But this October, we were celebrating as Gov. Jerry Brown signed Assembly Bill 142, legislation authored by Assemblyman Frank Bigelow. The passage of the bill moves the Mokelumne closer to permanent protection while providing the river with interim protections and water agencies with the state study they want.
In its final form, AB 142 was a reasonable compromise that had no real opposition. It was supported by Amador and Calaveras counties, foothill water agencies, the East Bay Municipal Utility District, the California Farm Bureau Federation, and PG&E in addition to river conservation, recreation, and fish organizations. As a result, it passed both houses of the Legislature by overwhelming and rare bipartisan majority votes.
As passed by the Legislature, AB 142:
- Names the Mokelumne from Salt Springs Dam to Pardee Reservoir as a potential addition to the state Wild and Scenic River System.
- Calls for a state study to analyze water supply, climate change, and other issues of concern to local water purveyors, to be completed by the end of 2017.
- Requires that the study will provide for input from a broad range of stakeholders.
- Analyzes the effect of previous state Wild and Scenic designations on water rights applications and water rights granted after designation.
- Adds protections for the river, including a ban on construction of new dams and diversions on the river upstream of Pardee Reservoir and a ban on state funding for projects (with some exceptions), that could harm the free-flowing condition and natural character of the same river reaches. Those protections stay in place until the implementation of Wild and Scenic designation recommendations resulting from the study or the end of 2021, whichever occurs first.
- Requires local agencies to pay up to 50 percent of the study’s cost.
We’ll be working this year to ensure that the state study is carried out in a reasonable way that fairly reviews the Mokelumne’s outstanding cultural, recreational, water quality and scenic values.
Meanwhile, we’d like to thank everyone who worked for passage of AB 142, including our partners at Friends of the River and those of you who have been strong supporters of Mokelumne River protection. Your support and your voice made a real difference for the river last year.