The Mokelumne River is one step closer to permanent state protection after Sen. Loni Hancock introduced legislation that would safeguard the waterway, which forms the boundary between Calaveras and Amador counties.
Hancock represents the Berkeley area and she took up the mantle of Senate Bill 1199 in February, but she amended and revised the legislation before resubmitting it April 3. The bill would designate 37 miles of the Mokelumne River as a California Wild and Scenic River. The proposed stretch of river runs between Salt Springs Dam and Pardee Reservoir.
“The Mokelumne River is an extremely important state resource that provides high-quality drinking water to 1.4 million East Bay water users,” Hancock said.
The river also provides hydropower to more than 200,000 homes.
At its meeting Feb. 25, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors gave unanimous support to the move to designate the Mokelumne River as Wild and Scenic.
“There are a lot of good arguments for protecting the Mokelumne River – economic arguments, the community arguments, the environment,” said District 2 Supervisor Chris Wright during the meeting. “But really, when it comes down to it, it’s very personal for me. I grew up on that river.”
A strong contingent of supporters filled the room to voice their own reasons to designate the waterway as a Wild and Scenic River, but not everybody agreed with the move.
“From the research that I’ve done, I just don’t know why we need to make such a designation to this river,” said Vicky Reinke of Angels Camp. “It’s served us well to this point. The recreation, the boating, the fishing – it’s all there and it’s not going away as far as I can see.”
A Wild and Scenic River designation gives California rivers protection from many future impacts, particularly dams, however, it doesn’t go nearly as far as federal protection.
“It precludes any additional dams inside that stretch of river that don’t have dams right now,” Wright said.
Director Jeff Davidson of the Calaveras County Water District voiced concerns about a Wild and Scenic designation for the Mokelumne during a March board meeting. After a lengthy discussion, the board asked CCWD staff to look at how a Wild and Scenic designation would impact the district’s ability to access water reservations from the Mokelumne in the future.
When news hit that Hancock had submitted the bill, those who have been pushing for the designation were overjoyed.
“We’re very excited,” said Cecily Smith, executive director of the Foothill Conservancy based in Jackson. “We’re thrilled. We’ve been working with (Hancock’s) office since early this year. ”
“(I’m) just looking forward to working with those guys down in Sacramento and seeing if we can make it happen,” Wright said. “It’s really such a great opportunity to highlight one of our greatest resources here in Calaveras County and that is our natural resources.”
The next move for SB 1199 is to move through the committee process. The bill must receive approval from the committee on Natural Resources and Water, which could take place as early as April 22.
“(If) it passes out of that, it will have to go to (the committee on Governance and) Finance next,” Smith said.
Wright is hoping to get the Wild and Scenic River designation by the end of the year and he sees nothing but positives for Calaveras County.
“It’s one of the great examples of something that’s good for the economy, the environment and the community.”