Protect the Mokelumne River & its bird habitat

Editor’s note: Make your voice heard! Email state legislators today about protecting the Mokelumne River. There is an important hearing on Monday June 23.

By Andrea Cassidy

The Mokelumne River in the central Sierra Nevada may seem far from the Bay Area, but we have a vital connection: It’s the source for much of our drinking water through the East Bay Municipal Utility District.

Friends of the River and the Foothill Conservancy have been working to protect the Mokelumne River for 24 years. They had hoped to have it designated as a wild and scenic river under the Federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, enacted under President Lyndon Johnson. However, their congressman Tom McClintock (R-Elk Grove) does not support the federal program to protect rivers. Thus, one year ago, the organizations changed direction and decided to seek protection of the Mokelumne under the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. While the California Act is not as protective as the federal act, it would prevent new and larger dams from being installed on the Mokelumne River.

Since the state representatives in the Foothill area are not supportive of the conservation efforts, the local sponsors sought support from State Senator Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) whose district consumes 90 percent of the water obtained from the Mokelumne River. Hancock introduced Senate Bill 1199 in February. It passed in the Senate and is being heard by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee next Monday, June 23. If it gets out of committee, it will go before the full Assembly. It would designate 37 miles of the Mokelumne River as a California Wild and Scenic River. The proposed stretch runs from Salt Springs Dam to the Pardee Resevoir.

North Fork of the Mokelumne / Courtesy of Foothill Conservancy
North Fork of the Mokelumne / Courtesy of Foothill Conservancy
North Fork of the Mokelumne
North Fork of the Mokelumne

The protection is being sought because the Mokelumne River is already oversubscribed and further dams could destroy the important riparian habitat, home to Yellow Warblers, Black Phoebes, Bullocks Orioles, and Western Tanagers. Dippers live along the river and the area is also home to Cave, Barn and Cliff Swallows. Northern Goshawks and Spotted Owls live in the forested river section upstream. The river is also home to amphibians and fish. There is potential for restoring salmon to the river above the Pardee Dam, and protecting the 37 mile section of the river would assist in the salmon restoration project.

Western Tanager / Photo by Bob Lewis
Western Tanager / Photo by Bob Lewis
Birds aren't the only ones who benefit from protecting the Mokelumne! /  / Courtesy of Foothill Conservancy
Birds aren’t the only ones who benefit from protecting the Mokelumne! / Courtesy of Foothill Conservancy

The Calaveras County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to support the Mokelumne designation as Wild and Scenic.  The designation gives California rivers protection from many future impacts, such as dams, and would establish standards for future water rights uphill from the 37 miles.

The bill states:

(a)  The Mokelumne River contains extraordinary scenic, recreational, historical, cultural, and water quality values of statewide significance that deserve to be preserved in their free-flowing state for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of  the state.

(b) In designating the Mokelumne River as a component of the California Wild and Scenic River System, it is the intent of the Legislature that this act will accomplish the preservation of those values.

Unfortunately, most water districts including EBMUD are not in support of the bill. They do not want to limit their water storage options, particularly during a time of drought.

Following the recommendation of our East Bay Conservation Committee, Golden Gate Bird Alliance is supporting SB 1199 because it will protect the Mokelumne’s wildlife and habitat, as well as recreation opportunities (river rafting, birding) and water quality.

But the legislature needs to hear from individual GGBA members, as well as from the organization!

Please contact members of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee this weekend to urge support of SB 1199. The link  will bring you to their contact page.

Send a message stating your support to Committee Chair Wesley Chesbro (D-Arcata), Vice Chair Brian Dahle (R-Bieber), and to the only committee member from the Bay Area, Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley). We are hopeful that Assemblywoman Skinner will support the bill but it is still helpful for her to hear from constituents.

If you are an EBMUD customer, you can also email your board representative and ask that EBMUD support SB 1199 or at least stay neutral. Click here to find your ward and representative.

Want to learn more about the Wild and Scenic Mokelumne campaign? See the Foothill Conservancy web site at


Andrea Cassidy is a member of GGBA’ East Bay Conservation Committee and a volunteer with Tern Watch in Alameda. She started birding in 1995 when her first guide in Africa was a birder earning a living on safaris.

Map of Mokelumne River section (purple) that would be protected as a Wild and Scenic River
Map of Mokelumne River section (purple) that would be protected as a Wild and Scenic River
Courtesy of Foothill Conservancy
Mokelumne River