Wild & Scenic Mokelumne Update

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Mokelumne Wild and Scenic effort more important now than ever
Katherine Evatt
North Fork Mokelumne River below Salt Springs, May 2016
State Wild and Scenic River designation for the Mokelumne River is increasingly important as the new federal administration and the Congress begin dismantling our nation’s bedrock environmental laws. It is entirely possible that future federal protection for the river will be foreclosed through their efforts, so we are focused more than ever on protecting the Mokelumne under California law.

As you know, back in 2015, Assembly Bill 142 set in motion a state Wild and Scenic River “suitability” study for 37 miles of the Mokelumne through Amador and Calaveras counties. The State Resources Agency is charged with completing the study. At the same time, local water agencies and counties that make up the Upper Mokelumne River Watershed Authority agreed to help fund half of its cost, either directly with financial contributions or through “in-kind” work.

We are keeping in touch with state officials to make sure that the study is done in an open and unbiased way and to offer assistance. The Resources Agency hopes its contractor will soon begin the work.

Meanwhile, the agency has arranged for the California Research Bureau, a branch of the State Library, to update a state wild and scenic report done for former state Senator Lois Wolk several years ago. The update will fulfill an AB 142 mandate that calls on the state to document when and where water diversions have been allowed from state-designated Wild and Scenic Rivers. The Resources Agency has broadened the bill’s intent to also study when the state has denied applications for diversions from designated rivers. This information will not only help with the Mokelumne River suitability determination, but with other future state wild and scenic river efforts.

On the local front, the Amador Water Agency is proceeding with a long-term water needs study to quantify how much water the county may need in the future. When its consultant, RMC Consultants, presented to the AWA board twice in 2016, we were there to voice our concerns about many of the study’s assumptions (see Focus, Winter 2016). At the request of then-AWA President Robert Manassero, we submitted a detailed letter about our concerns in September 2016.

In that letter, we objected to the AWA’s attempt to determine how state Wild and Scenic River designation would affect local water supply, since that is the purpose of the state study and should be analyzed by a neutral party. We also urged the AWA to avoid trying to do its own climate change projections because those are also within the purview of the state study.

We noted that we “believe that it is critical for the study to be based on assumptions that are grounded in reality and on sound planning principles.” We offered to work with the agency to develop “assumptions and methodologies we can all agree are reasonable,” too.

Until a few weeks ago, the agency had not responded to our letter. At Director Manassero’s request, RMC sent us a response on February 6.

While we have not yet had time to review that response in detail, Foothill Conservancy President Katherine Evatt commented, “It’s consistent with how RMC and AWA have responded – or not – to our past concerns. They’re pretty good at making us feel heard and then continuing along their original path. We have no faith that their Long-Term Water Needs Study will be valid, they have not taken us up on our offer to work together on assumptions and methodologies, and it looks to us like the study is intended to thwart future protection of the remaining free-flowing portions of the Mokelumne River by overstating future demand and speculating on the effects of designation.”

Over the years, we have made a good-faith effort to address local water needs while protecting the Mokelumne and its watershed. We will continue to do that as the AB 142 study proceeds. But at this point, the latest AWA study appears to fly in the face of the good-faith compromise reached through AB 142 as well as our years of work to find water solutions that protect the environment.

The Calaveras County Water District recently executed a contract with a consultant to develop its own AB 142-related water-demand study. We hope to work with CCWD to avoid the conflicts we’re currently experiencing with the AWA.

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