In Feb., Rep. Tom McClintock, calling the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act “outrageous red tape”, introduced H.R. 934, a bill that would remove federal protection from a segment of the wild and scenic Merced River to allow for possible reservoir expansion. A similar bill was approved by the House of Representatives last year but stalled in the U.S. Senate.
H.R. 934 directly challenges the specific purpose of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act to protect our nation’s free-flowing and outstanding rivers for present and future generations. If passed by Congress, it would be first time federal protection was removed from a free-flowing river to allow for destructive water resources development.
H.R. 934 threatens public lands in the Merced River Wilderness Study Area and the Wild Merced River corridor. Expansion of the McClure Reservoir would not only drown scenic and popular public recreation lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management, it would also flood habitat set aside to preserve the threatened limestone salamander, an amphibian found nowhere else on earth.
H.R. 934 could be heard by the House Public Lands Subcommittee any day now. If it passes, it could be fast-tracked with a number of other environmentally destructive bills that passed the House last year. But right now we have another chance to stop this river-destroying and precedent-setting bill in the House. Act today: send an e-mail to your representative urging them to vote “No” on H.R. 934 and reject this misguided attempt to remove federal protection from the Wild Merced and weaken the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
More than 20 years ago, Congress preserved the Merced as a National Wild and Scenic River. With the introduction of H.R. 934, Congress has once again been asked to consider precedent-setting legislation that directly threatens one of California’s wildest rivers.
There are many reasons why Congress should reject H.R. 934.
- Terrible precedent. If passed by Congress, H.R. 934 would be the first time that our existing policy of preserving some free-flowing and outstanding rivers through the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act is reversed to allow for expanding a reservoir. California already has 1,400 major dams. One congressional proponent of the dam raise said, “We need many more projects like this.” H.R. 934 is a dangerous precedent for the Wild Merced and many other supposedly protected rivers in California and throughout the nation.
- Breaking the deal. MID supported protecting the Wild Merced when Congress added the river to the Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 1992. Now MID wants to roll back federal protection to allow for an entirely speculative expansion of McClure Reservoir, despite serious questions about economic and engineering feasibility. MID could design and study the potential reservoir expansion without reversing federal protection for the Wild Merced, but has declined to do so.
- Costs local jobs in recreation. The Wild Merced is the gateway to Yosemite National Park. It flows through federal public lands that provide outstanding outdoor recreational opportunities for thousands of people. The Wild Merced is a popular whitewater boating destination and the Merced River Trail provides easy access for hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrians to one of the most scenic river canyons in the Sierra Nevada foothills. Reservoir expansion would harm these river-based recreational values and adversely impact the local tourism-based economy.
- Killing of threatend wildlife. The Wild Merced provides important habitat for the rare limestone salamander, a critter found nowhere else in the world. The salamander is protected by state law as a threatened species. Expanding the reservoir would not only flood part of the salamander’s habitat, but would directly violate state law.
- Destruction of public lands. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages the public lands along the Wild Merced as part of the National Landscape Conservation System. The BLM is responsible for protecting the free-flowing character and outstanding values of the Wild Merced. The river also flows through the Merced River Wilderness Study Area, which is managed by the BLM to protect its primitive values. In addition, the agency protects limestone-salamander habitat along the river as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern. The BLM has raised serious concerns about the legislation because the expanded reservoir would flood the Wild Merced, as well as portions of the wilderness study area and area of critical environmental concern.
- Threat to public safety. MID proposes to expand McClure Reservoir by raising the spillways of New Exchequer Dam by 10 feet. The expanded reservoir, when full, would be only one foot below the crest of the dam, creating a dangerous potential for catastrophic failure of the dam under flood conditions. MID has not provided a dam-safety analysis of its proposal or submitted its proposal for review by state dam safety officials.
- Little to no water yield. Reservoirs have already flooded 32 miles of the Merced River. Expanding McClure Reservoir would produce little new water and then only in a few wet years. Raising the dam would only increase MID’s annual water supply by about 2.5%. Less costly water conservation and reclamation measures would produce more water than raising the dam, without harming the Wild Merced. California already has 1,400 major dams and more than 32 miles of the Merced River have been flooded by reservoirs. We don’t need to remove federal protection from the Wild Merced to allow for entirely speculative water development.
- Millions in hidden public costs. Since no feasibility or engineering studies have been conducted by MID, the public has no idea how much the proposed reservoir expansion could cost. But we do know that expanding McClure Reservoir would require raising or relocating the Highway 49 bridge. And raising the dam itself would have be done in a way that passes dam safety regulations. Both would likely prove to be prohibitively expensive. Undoubtedly, expanding McClure Reservoir would cost millions of dollars, with MID ratepayers and perhaps state and federal taxpayers footing the bill.
For the most current update about H.R. 934, visit www.friendsoftheriver.org. For more information concerning this issue, contact Ron Stork, senior policy advocate, Friends of the River at email@example.com or (916)442-3155, ext. 220.
Friends Of The River