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 The voice of California's rivers

Tell the Modesto Bee 
McClintock's HR 934 is all wet, and so are his "facts."




UPDATE: April 11, 2013: McClintock has facts wrong and another non-reason to support drowning the Merced. Ronald Stork, Senior Policy Staff

Just in case you are tempted to believe the premise of Rep. McClintock’s recent letter to the editor to the Modesto Bee, see the bottom row of attached table. Every FERC-licensed reservoir below a National Wild & Scenic River in the state has FERC project boundaries that fall within the upstream wild & scenic river corridor. That is not a mistake to be corrected, it happens because Wild & Scenic rivers in the Sierra generally end in reservoirs (we’ve done a pretty good job damming all of the rivers that flow out of the Sierra). In contrast, FERC project boundaries are administrative boundaries that encompass and are almost always larger than the actual project works and reservoirs that FERC licenses. Thus, the lower end of wild & scenic river corridors (the river and adjacent lands around a designated free-flowing river) usually fall within these FERC administrative boundaries.
This does not interfere with reservoir operations since the ability to store water in a reservoir ends at the elevation of a long ungated spillway, not where FERC project boundaries happen to lie. The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act protects free-flowing rivers and doesn’t care at all where FERC happens to draw an administrative boundary. It’s the elevation of an ungated spillway that defines the boundary between a reservoir and the free-flowing river upstream, not the FERC project boundary.
You’ll note that this practice is not some new or radical idea: it flows from the provisions of both the Federal Power Act and the National Wild & Scenic Rivers Acts and dates back to the creation of the National Wild & Scenic River system in 1968 (see the Middle Fork Feather in the table) and was followed locally in the Tuolumne in 1984 and the Merced in 1992.  I’ve had this beat since in the early 1980s, so, unlike the Congressman, I actually know the subject matter.
Interestingly, if the lower portion of a wild & scenic river were to be de-designated and FERC licenses a reservoir expansion, normal FERC practice would be to expand the project’s administrative boundaries outside of the reservoir (as they are today) and thus into the remaining wild & scenic river corridor. Under the Congressman’s theory, this would again force additional de-designation legislation---perhaps something that he would enjoy, but the whole notion is rather silly.
As has been said by others, the Congressman is entitled to his values or opinions, but he is not entitled to his own set of facts. And if there are news pieces that feature the Congressman’s clearly erroneous facts, it would not be a disservice to informed public discourse if letters to editor called him on it.
McClintock’s moves on the Merced (March 2013)
The opening battle for the integrity of the National Wild & Scenic River System in the 113th Congress began on March 4, 2013, with the introduction of HR 934 by Representative Tom McClintock (R–Elk Grove). Like its predecessor, HR 2578 in the previous Congress, HR 934 would de-designate a portion of the Merced River to accommodate an expanded McClure Reservoir.
In his press release announcing the bill, Rep. McClintock characterized the National Wild & Scenic River System, our nation’s premier tool for preserving our natural river heritage, as just “truly outrageous bureaucratic red tape.”
The bill introduction was quickly followed by another Modesto Bee editorial in favor of de-designating the Merced because, to borrow again from Rep. McClintock, it represented a “desperately needed resource” and that de-designating a National Wild & Scenic River to replace free-flowing water with a reservoir for the first time in our nation’s history does not represent a dangerous precedent to other rivers in the system. Because of this, the Merced Irrigation District needs to be free to study raising their dam.
Well, nice rhetoric, but a little short on understanding.
Desperately needed?
The Merced River is already heavily exploited. The new yield potentially available from the proposed raise is just 2.5% of what the District typically diverts into its canals, and that doesn’t even take into account its waters diverted downstream of its confluence with the San Joaquin.
Exchequer Dam has never spilled over its ungated spillway. With full reservoirs, 32 miles of the Merced River already lie beneth Merced Irrigation District and PG&E reservoirs. And in a long series of its annual reports at the time of the designation, the District asserted:
“The district now has virtual control of the waters of the Merced as long as such waters are put to beneficial use and it is assured of an adequate irrigation supply for the foreseeable future.”
And yes, they sell water to west side out-of-district farmers every chance they get.
Go right ahead and study
Nothing in the National Wild & Scenic Rivers Act prevents the District from “studying” raising the dam. When they do, they will discover some inconvenient facts: (1) their plan could result in a collapse of their dam and could never pass a dam-safety review, (2) that their costs will also include raising the Hwy 49 bridge and dealing with their dam-safety problems, costs that far exceed the initial estimates they tout to the Bee, and (3) that expanding their reservoir is impermissible under state law protecting the fully protected Merced River limestone salamander, a creature found nowhere else on earth. And that’s just the problems that they will have with the State of California.
Precedent. You’ve got the wrong messengers
The bill’s authors can’t seem to stay on the “don’t worry, this won’t ever happen again” message that the Modesto Bee is touting. Last year, Rep Denham, the author of HR 2578, informed his Congressional colleagues that “We should be able to adjust those boundaries, especially if it serves the greater good” while at the same time saying, “We need many more projects like this.” Maybe not exactly on message, eh?
And Rep McClintock has never seen a dam proposal he didn’t like. He’s trying to hold flood-control projects for the state capital hostage for Auburn dam, and he recently told a crowd in Sonora when asked about the twin-tunnel proposal to deliver water to the west-side farms and the South State, he said:
I’ve taken a strong stand in Washington, no additional conveyance without additional storage. This business of sucking this region dry of water without producing additional water supplies for this region is an absolute outrage. All that does is transfer a water shortage from Southern California to Northern California and by God that’s not going to happen.”
Good rhetoric for a new Northern California Congressman from Southern California. He’s probably right to be concerned about the tunnels, but what’s all this business about new storage? Could it means a new dam, reservoir, or diversion is coming to a river near you if Rep. McClintock has his way? And is the National Wild & Scenic River System just “truly outrageous bureaucratic red tape” as Rep. McClintock says? And should we really accept the Bee’s assurances that breaking the “permanent” in “permanent protection" would not jeopardize the System when the list of co-sponsors includes the Majority Whip of the House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy.
The Modesto Bee seems a little short on evidence. You might tell them to check out the Friends of the River website. They might learn something.
Time to take up the pen. Democracy is not a spectator sport.
Letters to the Modesto Bee: go to and are limited to 200 words  
For more background including the text of HR 934 please visit our Merced Campign page or our Merced Background page

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