In January, Assemblymember Frank Bigelow (R-O'Neals) introduced Assembly Bill 142, which calls for more study of the Mokelumne River, with a focus on water supply and climate change, before it could be protected with state Wild and Scenic River protection. Foothill Conservancy originally opposed the bill, announcing our opposition in this news release
with Friends of the River. We identified a number of problems with the original bill and were joined in opposing AB 142 by about 50 conservation and fish organizations, tribal interests and businesses, including local businesses.
Then on Monday, March 23, AB 142's author accepted several amendments from the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, which largely resolve our issues with the bill. He also stated in the committee hearing that the bill was not intended to delay Wild and Scenic designation and that he could support Wild and Scenic protection if recommended as a result of the study. River conservation groups support the bill moving forward now as a positive step toward permanent protection of the Mokelumne.
Among other things, the amendments will:
- Name the Mokelumne upstream of Pardee Reservoir as a potential addition to the state Wild and Scenic River System.
- Establish the deadline for the study as December 31, 2016.
- Limit the water supply study to "feasible projects and foreseeable demands" and the climate change study to climate's effects on river values and water supply.
- Require that the study will provide for input from a broad range of stakeholders.
- Analyze the effect of previous state Wild and Scenic designations on water rights applications and any water rights granted after designation.
- Add protections for the river, including a bar on construction of new dams and diversions on the river upstream of Pardee Reservoir and a ban on state funding or assistance for projects, including planning, that could harm the free-flowing condition and natural character of the same river reaches. Those protections will stay in place until the implementation of any Wild and Scenic designation recommendations resulting from the study.
The bill faces some obstacles ahead. Funding for the study will need to be found, and it may be difficult to complete the study by the deadline.