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PG&E Considers Recreational Flows Below Chili Bar During COVID-19 (CA)

Posted: 05/05/2020
by Theresa Simsiman

Good news as we navigate our lives with COVID-19, American Whitewater received word that Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) has made the decision NOT to cancel scheduled recreational flows on the South Fork American River. Wait what? Yes, you read correct a paddling staple we take for granted below Chili Bar was on the verge of being curtailed in the midst of a public safety emergency.

On the surface a decision to cancel recreational flows during a pandemic sounds like a no brainer, right? However, the reality of cancelling flows on one of the most paddled rivers in California can be nuanced. There are impacts to a huge community of local paddlers, commercial outfitters, businesses and a county who already struggles under shelter in place ordinances. In other words, a decision like this should never be made unilaterally in the dark backroom of a hydropower office. Consultation with affected stakeholders is highly suggested and needed!

Fortunately, the Chili Bar Hydropower Coordinator for PG&E took the input from American Whitewater, California Outdoors and El Dorado County in stride and committed to getting a bigger picture of the issues. For our part, American Whitewater pointed out that we broadly support Governor Newsom's shelter in place order in response to COVID-19. However, along the South Fork American River dispersed recreation like paddling, hiking and biking had not been prohibited. We further commented that social distancing from a kayak or raft on the river is just as reasonable on a trail. Finally, we highlighted the health and well-being of the local community who treasures paddling on the river in their backyard.

The Coloma Lotus community can breath a big sigh of relief! PG&E has committed to continuing scheduled recreational flows on the South Fork American River below Chili Bar for now. But we caution that PG&E is still monitoring the ever-changing landscape of life with COVID-19. Therefore, American Whitewater encourages folks to begin getting outdoors in a responsible manner. Be sure to check out our guidelines on if, how, when and where paddling is a good idea right now. Remember, if we don't make the right decisions about how we get back on our rivers, the utilities certainly have the power (pun intended) to make that decision for us.

Theresa Simsiman
Sacramento, CA

Associated Rivers

American, S. Fork CA
American, S. Fork CA