Wild & Scenic Mokelumne Update

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State recommends California Wild and Scenic River designation for 37 miles of the Mokelumne River
Katherine Evatt
House-size boulder in N. Fork Mokelumne River
On April 18, the California Natural Resources Agency released the final Mokelumne River Wild and Scenic River Study Report to the state legislature. The report recommends adding 37 miles of the North Fork and Main Mokelumne River between Salt Springs Dam and Pardee Reservoir to the California Wild and Scenic Rivers System. While state legislation will be required to bring that about, we are very happy with the report and the recommendations.

The CNRA released the draft report in late January, then held meetings to take public comment in Mokelumne Hill and Oakland. The Mokelumne Hill meeting was filled with local residents and other river lovers. Nearly all who spoke supported permanent protection for the Mokelumne. Speakers in Oakland supported the recommendation, too.

“The Mokelumne River has had a wonderful effect on my life,” said Christine Coleman of Calaveritas. “I want it to be here to have a wonderful effect on my children’s lives and their children’s lives. It’s a place to immerse ourselves in a wonderful environment.”

Many organizations, individuals, and some public agencies submitted written or electronic comments on the draft report. In total, the CNRA received more than 1,700 comments, the overwhelming majority of which favored protecting the river.

“As someone who has spent a great deal of time in the Mokelumne River canyon and on the river, I’m not surprised the state found the river to have ‘extraordinary scenic values,’” said Foothill Conservancy President Katherine Evatt. “It’s an incredibly beautiful place that brings joy, peace and inspiration to local residents and visitors, alike.”

“We’re glad to see that the study recommends adding all 37 miles of the Mokelumne listed in Assembly Bill 142 to the California Wild and Scenic River system,” said Friends of the River’s Wild Rivers Consultant Steve Evans. “The study recognizes the Mokelumne’s extraordinary scenic and recreational resources and finds that designating the river is fully consistent with the intent of the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. Water agencies have questioned that in the past and demanded that the state do a study. Now we have the study, and it clearly demonstrates that the Mokelumne is worth protecting for generations to come.”

While we and others urged the state to also find the upper reaches of the Mokelumne to have extraordinary wildlife values, the final report did not support that recommendation.

The study’s findings and conclusions include the following:

  • The major effect of Mokelumne wild and scenic designation would be to ban onstream dams and reservoirs in the affected reaches of the river, as well as the diversion of water for use outside Amador and Calaveras counties.
  • After designation, current uses of the Mokelumne River would continue. Wild and scenic designation will not affect existing water rights, hydropower generation, hunting and fishing, land use, grazing, and agriculture. It will have limited potential effects on timber management or logging on private lands and no effect on public land timber management. The study notes that wild and scenic designation does not give the state additional condemnation power and that no land along a state-designated has ever been subject to eminent domain.
  • Local water agencies could develop “many types of water projects” upstream of the designated reaches “without adversely affecting the free-flowing condition, natural character, and extraordinary scenic and recreational values of designated segments.” The study also makes clear that CAWSR designation “does not seem to have adversely affected [water] diversion applications on wild and scenic rivers,” based on the 2017 findings of the California Research Bureau, and concludes that “Other environmental regulations such as CEQA would have more impact on a proposed project than the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (CRB 2018).”

The study lauded the diverse recreational opportunities along and near the Mokelumne, which include family camping, rock climbing, water play, fishing, swimming, gold panning, wildflower viewing and family outings in addition to whitewater boating. It states, “This array of both relaxing and challenging recreational opportunities and values is unique among western Sierra Nevada rivers and already designated State Wild and Scenic Rivers.”

Theresa Simsiman, California Stewardship Director of American Whitewater, noted her national organization’s support for the study’s recreational values analysis. “Paddlers are pleased to see the study acknowledge what we've known for decades. The Mokelumne River is a unique whitewater resource that boaters of all skill levels can enjoy.”

Calaveras resident Mark Musgrave, a native of England, said “The reason I moved to this area was the river. We’ve been excited by the opportunity to kayak the river. My daughter just kayaked on the Mokelumne and I hope to get my other daughter out there soon.”

The report also includes four “special provisions” that are intended to clarify how state Wild and Scenic designation will and won’t affect current and future water rights, PG&E’s Mokelumne river hydropower project, and the operation of the Roaring Camp Mining Company.

“After years of disagreement over Wild and Scenic designation for the Mokelumne, we hope that environmental groups and water agencies can reach agreement about the future of our river and ensure it’s protected for generations to come,” Evatt said. “We think the study busted a lot of the myths around California Wild and Scenic River designation, and we hope the special provisions will be acceptable to all.”

You can view the CNRA press release on our website.

For copies of the state study and appendices, see the CNRA website.

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