The headwaters of the Wild and Scenic Merced River begin in the iconic Yosemite National Park. The river pools and cascades through the stunning scenic landscape - glaciated peaks, lakes and alpine and subalpine meadows - to McClure Reservoir, created by New Exchequer Dam. The South Fork and mainstem Merced was designated as a Wild and Scenic River in 1987, from its source on the south side of Mount Lyell in Yosemite National Park to 300 feet upstream of the confluence with Bear Creek, for their outstanding recreation, wildlife, fisheries and vegetation values. These include outstanding whitewater boating and biking, bald eagle nesting, scenic salmon fishing, and the chaparral. Preserving the riparian values of the Merced was important to the CA Department of Fish and Game around the time of designation because “close to 90% of the Central Valley's historic low elevation riparian habitat has been lost to human activities. Existing habitat values along the lower portions of Merced River can therefore be rated quite high because of their rarity.” (1991 Wild and Scenic River FEIS). Briceburg to the normal maximum operating pool of McClure Reservoir (867 feet) was added to the Wild and Scenic system in 1992.
Proposed legislation (HR 2578 and HR 869, which stalled in the 112th Congress, and HR 934 stalled in the 113th) would de-designate a portion of the Wild and Scenic River and allow Merced Irrigation District to raise New Exchequer Dam and expand McClure Reservoir. Second to the wilderness paddling available in Yosemite National Park, the segment of the Wild and Scenic Merced River that would be impacted contains some of the best wilderness paddling on the river. The area also provides habitat for the terrestrial limestone salamander, which is a California threatened species. The local community also strongly supports the creation of the “Merced River Trail” in the area, creating a bike-way that travels through the Yosemite Valley. The Merced is a remote river - it is only accessible by a railroad trail or by the river. All of these values, and the values that brought the river into the Wild and Scenic Rivers System, will be negatively impacted if this segment of the Wild and Scenic Merced is drown.
Proponents say that expanding McClure Reservoir and drowning this segment of the Wild and Scenic Merced is necessary for water supply purposes, however the project would only increase California's overall water supply by just 0.02%, and the capacity of the reservoir itself by 2%. This increase is unnecessary, as McClure Reservoir has never reached capacity and spilled. Proponents also say that the expansion would result in the Wild and Scenic Merced being inundated only during the wettest years - about every 6 years - and that the impacts would be no different than the seasonal flooding that already occurs on the reach. However, seasonal river floods and reservoir inundation are two very different processes, and reservoir inundation results in long-lasting destruction of the riparian corridor (see the difference between the top and bottom photos). The gains of the project are small, and the impact to the Merced and the integrity of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System is simply not worth it.
AW has worked with our partners to oppose this legislation not only to protect the Wild and Scenic Merced River, but also to uphold the integrity of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. National Wild and Scenic rivers are designated to balance the strong history and policy of dam building in this country. A designated river is one that is found to have special qualities that warrant protecting its free-flowing nature - for current and future generations. The Act was not designed to create a national reserve for future reservoirs, but to protect free-flowing rivers into the future.
American Whitewater will continue to work hard to protect the Merced and all Wild and Scenic Rivers. Stay tuned for updates.
Bill to Roll Back Merced Wild and Scenic Boundary Reintroduced (CA)
03/15/2013 - by Megan Hooker
Efforts to roll back the boundary of California's Wild and Scenic Merced River are picking up again. H.R. 934 was recently introduced in the House, and if passed it would open the door for Merced Irrigation District to increase the height of the spillway at New Exchequer Dam by 10 feet and expand McClure Reservoir. Not only would this drown a segment of an outstanding river, but it would be the first time in the 45 year history of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act that a designated reach would be shortened in the name of development.
Wall Street Journal on the Wild and Scenic Merced
01/10/2013 - by Dave Steindorf
The Wall Street Journal published a story today outlining the debate over the possible de-designation of the Wild and Scenic Merced River. We believe that this type of coverage will help highlight the threat to the Merced and Wild and Scenic rivers everywhere.