EBMUD comes out in favor of Mokelumne River protection

No bill has yet been introduced in the California Legislature this year that would re-ignite last year’s political fray over a proposal to designate 37 miles of the Mokelumne River as wild and scenic.

Despite that, governmental bodies from Oakland to San Andreas this week were positioning themselves as though the battle will continue. On Tuesday, the East Bay Municipal Utility District board of directors voted in support of wild and scenic protection for a 35-mile portion of the Mokelumne.

A day later in San Andreas, Calaveras County Water District officials gave their blessing to Assembly Bill 142 by Frank Bigelow, R-O’Neals, that would require additional study before any wild and scenic designation could be made for the Mokelumne.

In particular, AB 142 would require that the study explore how protecting the river would impact the future prospects for local water agencies to take more water from the Mokelumne. Local district officials have long warned that the designation could someday hamper their efforts to provide water to customers.

Conservationists have claimed that water agencies could take more water from the river as long as it did not destroy the river’s “free flowing” character.

Last year, Senate Bill 1199 won approval in the Senate but died in the California Assembly. That bill was by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley.

On Wednesday, CCWD directors said that they have no problem with protecting the river as long as it doesn’t mean that their customers will be locked out of future water supplies.

“A study like this will resolve the conflict between the two groups,” said CCWD Director Jeff Davidson.

Katherine Evatt of the Foothill Conservancy, one of the backers of wild and scenic protection for the Mokelumne, disagreed. She told the board that AB 142 is an effort to delay wild and scenic protection.

Nevertheless, the CCWD board ultimately voted 4-0 with Director Scott Ratterman absent to support AB 142. CCWD General Manager Dave Eggerton now has authority to communicate that support during a committee hearing in Sacramento later this month.

The vote by the EBMUD board in favor of wild and scenic protection for portions of the Mokelumne above Pardee Reservoir was unanimous.

Tracie Morales, a spokeswoman for EBMUD, said that directors slightly modified the resolution they adopted to urge Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to adopt a wild and scenic law that is “broadly supported” by all those with an interest in the river, including upcountry water districts.

The EBMUD resolution said that wild and scenic designation for the river “could be developed in a manner that would protect the East Bay’s water quality and avoid impacting the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s water rights, facilities, or a future downstream expansion of Pardee Reservoir.”

Amador County Supervisor Brian Oneto attended Wednesday’s CCWD meeting and said that he believes the fact that EBMUD officials think that wild and scenic is good for that agency is evidence that it is intended, in part, to thwart water development efforts by agencies in the foothills.

“They are going to put wild and scenic in place whether we like it or not,” Oneto said of the advocates for protecting the river.

​​Contact Dana M. Nichols at dana@calaverasenterprise.com or call 498-2052.

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