Assemblyman Frank Bigelow

Assemblyman Frank Bigelow played a role in stopping last summer’s Wild and Scenic River legislation, citing potential costs and “language challenges that needed to be addressed before the bill moved forward,” he said at the time.

Bigelow decided to help make those changes along with co-author Sen. Tom Berryhill. The pair introduced Assembly Bill 142 into the state Assembly on Jan. 12. It’s a bill that centers on Wild and Scenic designation for the Mokelumne River.

In effect, it asks that an additional requirement be added to any Wild and Scenic River legislation for the Mokelumne River moving forward.

More specifically, AB 142 asks that the official report – which is submitted to the governor and Legislature during the process of Wild and Scenic designations – “shall consider the potential effects of the proposed designation on the ability of the public agencies and utilities within the Mokelumne River watershed to meet current and projected future water requirements …”

In other words, AB 142 requires that the interests of water districts, and any potential future projects they may need to maintain “reliable water supplies,” be a significant part of the equation.

“It’s exactly what the water districts had proposed last year,” said Scott Ratterman, a director with the Calaveras County Water District. “The problem with it is that it’s language that has already been rejected by Foothill (Conservancy) and Friends of the River.”

Last year’s effort to see the Mokelumne River designated as a state Wild and Scenic River – known as SB 1199 and sponsored by Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley – gained significant momentum as it made its way through various committees in the state Legislature. It passed through the Senate before dying in the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee just before the session ended in August.

“It got held in committee because the Assembly finance committee felt that there were significant costs that were going to be incurred,” Bigelow said at the time.

Many water districts opposed the language of the legislation, citing the fact that it could impede future water projects that may be needed to maintain water for customers. The Amador County Board of Supervisors also rejected SB 1199, while the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors gave its unanimous approval. The bill was also supported by a host of environmental groups, including the Foothill Conservancy.

The contentious nature of the legislation, which is likely to return again, inspired a roundtable discussion group that includes both sides of the issue. They will meet Thursday in Calaveras County and attendees include representatives from the Board of Supervisors, the Foothill Conservancy, CCWD and the Calaveras Public Utility District.

“If we can come to some understanding and some agreement here locally … where the river flows and provide that outcome to Sacramento, to Bigelow’s office, that’s our goal – to come to some understanding and resolution locally and provide some direction to the language of the Wild and Scenic bill,” said Ratterman, who will take part in Thursday’s meeting.

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