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Court Ruling Protects California's Mokelumne River

Posted: 04/20/2011
By: Megan Hooker

American Whitewater is celebrating a recent court victory from the Sacramento Superior Court that protects the recreational, cultural and historic values of the Mokelumne River.  The April 11, 2011 decision by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley held that the East Bay Municipal Utility District's ("EBMUD") 2040 Water Plan violated California's Environmental Quality Act ("CEQA"). The suit was filed by AW partners Friends of the River, Foothill Conservancy, and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance in an effort to halt EBMUD's proposal to expand the Pardee Reservior and inundate a Wild and Scenic eligible stretch of the river. 

The court held that the plan violated CEQA because it failed to describe and consider the potentially significant impacts of the project on the Mokelumne’s recreational, cultural, and historic values, and as a result, failed to set forth mitigation plans for those impacts. The court also found that EBMUD neglected to examine the project’s impacts on emergency evacuation routes for local residents, and failed to consider supply alternatives to the project. 

The main area of concern was for the Middle Bar Run, which is a section of the river that is known for its outstanding cultural, historic and recreational values.  While the Run would have been inundated by the expansion of the Pardee Reservoir, the EBMUD's Water Plan failed to acknowledge that it existed, let alone consider the potentially significant impacts. The EBMUD will now have to consider water supply alternatives that spare an already overappropriated Mokelumne River in a new Environmental Impact Report, which will undergo another round of public review and comment when it is complete. 

The 2040 Water Plan was opposed by a diverse and broad coalition of stakeholders from the foothills to the East Bay, including local governments, historical and tribal groups, local businesses, riverside property owners, federal agencies and PG&E. Given the importance of the Mokelumne River and the range of opposition to the Water Plan, AW felt it was vitally important to provide support to our partner organizations that filed the suit. AW made a donation to their efforts from the Larry Berg California River Stewardship Fund, which honors the memory and giving spirit of kayaker Larry Berg. 

Under CEQA, prevailing parties are awarded their costs, expenses and attorney’s fees.  As a result, AW's initial donation will be coming back to us and will continue to fund our efforts for long-lasting protection of the Mokelumne and other California rivers. While the Mokelumne has been spared from this threat, a Wild and Scenic designation is ultimately needed to protect the river long-term. To increase the impact of our work and support our efforts to secure permanent protections of the Mokelumne through Wild and Scenic designation, please consider donating to American Whitewater today! 

Megan Hooker

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