Under Attack: The Wild and Scenic Merced River
Representative Tom McClintock introduced legislation (H.R. 934) that would roll back protections for nearly a mile of the Wild and Scenic Merced River in order to raise Merced Irrigation District’s 479-ft New Exchequer Dam. The Merced River was protected under the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act in 1992, which prohibits the construction of dams that affect designated rivers. If passed, this bill would mark the first time in the 50-year history of the Wild and Scenic Rivers System that a river was stripped of protection in order to raise or build a dam and inundate a wild, free-flowing river.
And for what? The proposed raising of New Exchequer’s emergency spillway (see photo below) by 10 feet would allow Merced Irrigation District to store an additional 12,000 acre-feet or so in dry years, little more than 1% of MID’s total storage capacity at the dam and merely 2% of its water deliveries.
Not only would this bill potentially rollback protections for nearly a mile of the Wild and Scenic Merced River, but raising the New Exchequer Dam as proposed would set a dangerous precedent. As award winning author and photographer Tim Palmer put it in a recent Op Ed in the San Francisco Chronicle, “If a river as beloved as the Merced is up for grabs, what’s next?” Less than 0.25% of our nation’s rivers and streams are protected like the Merced—we need to defend what American Rivers and its partners across the country have worked so hard to protect.
Raising the dam would also harm the limestone salamander (photo below), which is listed as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act and has been given “fully protected” status. The limestone salamander is found in the area surrounding the dam and reservoir, and would certainly be harmed by the proposed raise, in violation of state law.
These are just a few of the reasons that the McClintock-Costa legislation should be stopped.