River Policy Currents
Ron Stork, FOR Policy Director
Feinstein Falters in the Right Direction?
The rhetoric around the idea of amending the National Wild
& Scenic Rivers Act to ease the way for the proposed expansion of Lake
McClure Reservoir and the drowning of part of the protected Merced River has
been pretty simple: water is good, dams make water, therefore a bigger dam is
So it came as a surprise when a new constituent-response
letter from Senator Feinstein (a supporter of removing Wild & Scenic
protection from the Merced River) recognized that California environmental law
may not allow for an expanded reservoir even if she is successful in rolling
back federal protection for the Merced River.
Her letter could represent a small step out of the fact-free
zone that many of California’s elected representatives have operated in on this
Of course the letter fails to recognize that the expanded
reservoir as conceived by the Merced Irrigation District would (1) fail
dam-safety muster and (2) make the Highway 49 bridge, now just barely above a
full-pool reservoir, subject to wave and storm-debris damage.
A better letter would also recognize that you can’t squeeze
much more water out of a dam that has never filled and spilled. And better yet
would be a commitment to defend the integrity of our national wild and scenic
But her letter is a small step in the right direction.
If you want to read Senator Feinstein’s latest, the
annotated letter is here.
While Costa gets his name in the newspaper
Sometimes it’s important for the cosponsors of Rep. Tom McClintock’s
(R-Elk Grove) Merced Wild & Scenic River de-designation bill, HR 934, to
get their share of the spotlight. It was in that spirit that Rep. Jim Costa
(D-Merced) took a public pilgrimage to New Exchequer Dam to hear Merced
Irrigation District’s sales job on the virtues of its proposed reservoir
expansion into the Merced National Wild & Scenic River.
Of course Rep. Costa heard the same old line from the
District about how nice more water would be, implying that the raised spillway
would generate a meaningful amount of “new” water. (It doesn’t.)
Perhaps the Congressman knew he was being misled, perhaps
not. But, for sure, Rep. Costa got a story in the local newspaper (the Merced
Sun-Star) about his visit.
Interestingly, the effect of the hypothetical bigger
reservoir on the endemic Merced River canyon limestone salamander was also
finally touched on by the District’s hometown newspaper booster. Unfortunately
the authors just gave the District’s side of that issue.
Well, it’s not really an issue in the District’s eyes. The
District would prefer to deal with the fully protected and California
Endangered Species Act “threatened” limestone salamander in front of a friendly
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dam-raise proceeding --- something that
requires the Wild & Scenic river to be de-designated.
Presumably they hope to convince that Commission that any
estivating (summer dormant) limestone salamanders and their eggs will magically
scamper away when their reservoir invades the salamander’s presently safe
hot-season refugees in the talus fields and broken rocks along the rising
reservoir. “That’s not exactly a scientifically credible plan. Of course our
view is that it’s pretty incredible that the District didn’t even establish the
feasibility of their idea before trotting off to Congress to win their approval
to put a reservoir on a National Wild & Scenic River for the first time in
See the Sun-Star story for yourself.
With the election of Representative Ed Markey to the Senate,
the Democrats have a new leader in the House Natural Resources (Interior)
Committee: Rep. Peter DeFazio of Oregon.
Californians will remember Rep. DeFazio as one of the
opponents of Auburn dam twenty-one years ago, when it most counted. He also
recently penned the following on the Merced:
I am opposed to this legislation as written. As you know, H.R. 934 would result in the
partial flooding of the Merced River, an incredible Wild and Scenic River that
flows out of Yosemite National Park. The
legislation has serious implications for the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which
I strongly support, by retroactively changing the designation of the river...
Relating to the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act more generally,
you may be interested to know that in 1988 I helped author a bill to add 40
Oregon rivers --- covering 1,400 river miles --- to the Nation's Wild and
Scenic Rivers system. This remains the largest river protection act in U.S.
history outside of Alaska.
Over the course of my career in the U.S. House of
Representatives I have played a leadership role in protecting 80 percent of all
Wild and Scenic miles in the State of Oregon. This Congress I have proposed
legislation to add 150 additional miles of Wild and Scenic in the State of
Oregon, including additions for the iconic Rogue and Chetco rivers.
Again, thanks for your message. As someone with a strong and proven record on
protecting America's rivers, you can be sure that I will do everything I can to
protect the Nation's Wild and Scenic Rivers system.
Way to go, Peter.
And when you, River Advocate reader, get a response from
your Congressional Representative on HR 934, please send us what you get, we
need to know who are the Peter DeFazio-type leaders out there, and those who