The House Resources Committee has declared war on the Merced and other wild rivers, and the Senate, led by Dianne Feinstein, may join in on this unprecedented attack!
The Republican-dominated House Natural Resources Committee has approved several bills that weaken federal protection for the Merced Wild River and other rivers in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The Committee approved by a party-line voice vote Rep. Jeff Denham’s bill H.R. 2578, which would adjust the boundary of the Merced Wild River to allow for possible expansion of the New Exchequer Reservoir.
H.R. 2578 would allow nearly a mile of the Merced Wild River downstream of its confluence with the North Fork to be permanently flooded by future reservoir expansion. The expansion is proposed as part of the Merced Irrigation District’s hydroelectric license application before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The bill is the first attempt by anti-river forces in Congress to remove federal protection for a wild and scenic river to allow for water development. The House Committee approved other bills with similar intent, including a bill by Rep. Michele Bachmann to allow for the construction of a massive freeway bridge over the St. Croix Scenic River in Minnesota and another bill that adjusts the boundary of Crooked Wild and Scenic River in Oregon to allow for local water development.
Passage of H.R. 2578 to allow flooding of this small segment of the Merced is a bad policy precedent, with far reaching implications for other rivers supposedly protected in the federal system. The bill also has serious environmental implications for the Merced River. This portion of the Merced Wild River is critical habitat for the endangered limestone salamander, found nowhere else in the world. Expansion of the New Exchequer Reservoir would not only destroy the endangered salamander’s habitat, but would also drown a beautiful segment of the river visited by thousands of whitewater boaters and a section of the Merced River Canyon trail popular with hikers and mountain bikers. Reservoir expansion would also flood a portion of the Merced Canyon Wilderness Study Area.
H.R. 2578 is similar to another bill introduced by Rep. Denham, H.R. 869. The practical effect of either bill would be to remove a segment of the Merced River protected in the Wild and Scenic Rivers System to allow for reservoir expansion.
H.R. 2578 directly challenges the intent of Congress when it approved the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 1968 to balance our national policy of building water supply and hydroelectric dams on many rivers by adopting a new policy to protect a few free-flowing rivers with outstanding values for present and future generations. Congress specifically chose to protect the Merced against water development when it designated the river in 1992.
Ironically, such reservoir expansion would not significantly add to local water supplies. The existing New Exchequer Reservoir is already large enough to capture most of the river’s run-off in a normal water year. An expanded reservoir could provide additional storage only in high-water years, and that water would likely be exported to water contractors outside the region. Not surprisingly, the massive Westlands Water District and Paramount Farms, some of the largest agri-businesses in the southern Central Valley, support the bill.
The package of bills approved by the Republican majority on the House Natural Resources Committee include numerous other anti-environmental measures, including a bill that allows for the shooting of protected sea lions to supposedly preserve endangered salmon.
Write to Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer at:
Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Tell them to oppose H.R. 2587 (or any other bill) that would destroy the integrity of the National Wild and Scenic River System.
Friends of the River