On Friday, July 21, 2000, American Whitewater along with other recreation groups, environmental organizations, state and federal resource agencies and Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) signed a settlement agreement setting conditions on PG&E's operation of the Mokelumne River hydropower project for the next 30 years. The settlement is the byproduct of a year-long collaborative effort. The agreement balances restoration of whitewater opportunities and riverine ecological processes with continued hydropower generation.
The Mokelumne River hydropower project extends from the Blue Lakes area in the Sierra Nevada alpine terrain to the Highway 49 area in the Foothills. The project contains a total of sixteen diversions. Diverting water out of the Mokelumne has limited boating opportunities on multiple whitewater runs: The fourteen mile Class IV-V Salt Springs run below Salt Springs Reservoir, the three mile Class IV Tiger Creek run below Tiger Creek diversion, the three mile Class III Ponderosa Way run, and the three mile (soon to be six) Class II Electra Run (See Holbek and Stanley's Guide to the Best Whitewater in the State of California, 2nd edition, pages 138-140). Additional yet more obscure runs do exist on this stretch of the Mokelumne. Scheduled releases from the respective diversions will restore paddling opportunities to these runs as well. American Whitewater will post the flow phone and URL for flow information and schedule of annual releases on their Website when it is available. “Establishing an annual schedule of whitewater releases has been a high priority for us,” said John Gangemi, American Whitewater Conservation Director. “The Mokelumne River appeals to a wide range of paddlers offering Class II to Class V paddling opportunities including roadside as well as pristine wilderness experiences. We worked long and hard with PG&E and other stakeholders to reach a mutually agreeable outcome.”
Long and hard is an understatement: The Mokelumne hydropower project license expired in 1972. For a variety of reasons a new license was not issued so PG&E continued to operate the project on annual licenses granted from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. American Whitewater has been actively engaged in establishing whitewater flows on the Mokelumne since 1992.
The Settlement Agreement establishes an annual schedule of releases for the four whitewater runs affected by the project diversions. The agreement also establishes Internet and toll free phone accessible streamflow information as well as improvements to access points. The whitewater component includes an adaptive management program that adjusts recreation streamflow volumes and the frequency of annual releases based on actual use.
In addition to the whitewater components, the settlement includes the following provisions:
- Establishes a number of conditions for project operation, including year-round minimum streamflows, to protect, mitigate, and enhance fish, wildlife and streamside habitat.
- Requires the breaching of existing diversion dams on East and West Panther Creeks and Beaver Creek, restoring the creeks to natural, unimpaired flow.
- Limits certain power-generating and maintenance activities, as well as the rate of change in generation-affected river levels, to protect aquatic resources and avoid adverse environmental impacts.
- Sets specific requirements for water temperature and dissolved oxygen to protect fish and other aquatic life.
- Establishes an Ecological Resources Committee comprising the licensee, resource agencies, and non-governmental organizations to make resource decisions over the term of the license.
In addition to American Whitewater, settlement signatories include PG&E, California Department of Boating and Waterways, California Department of Fish and Game, Foothill Conservancy, Friends of the River, Natural Heritage Institute, U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.
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