East Bay MUD killed its highly controversial plan Monday to build a giant new dam on the Mokelumne River in the Sierra foothills. The proposed dam was fiercely opposed by Sierra foothills residents and environmental groups because it would have enlarged the existing Pardee Reservoir and destroyed a scenic stretch of the Mokelumne that is popular for swimming, fishing, and kayaking.
Opponents of the proposed new dam quickly praised East Bay MUD's announcement. "It's a wise decision that everyone should feel good about," said Chris Wright, executive director of the Foothill Conservancy. "And it looks like a huge victory for the river."
East Bay Municipal Utility District officials said the proposed dam was no longer needed, and that the agency intends to further explore a partnership with the Contra Costa Water District on its planned expansion of Los Vaqueros Reservoir near Brentwood. The Los Vaqueros expansion has been noncontroversial because it wouldn't require the destruction of a beautiful river. "The possibility for the partnership is among the factors prompting EBMUD staff to recommend going for with the plan without the Enlarge Pardee option," East Bay MUD spokesman Charles Hardy stated in a press release.
The Express was the first news publication to take an in-depth look at the Mokelumne dam proposal and the many problems it posed (see "Sierra Water Grab," 4/29/09). The newspaper also was the first to note that East Bay MUD had previously turned its back on a partnership over Los Vaqueros even though it's a more environmentally friendly option (see "EBMUD Has Yet Another Option Besides a New Mokelumne Dam," 6/3/09).
After the EBMUD board voted in the fall of 2009 to push forward with the Mokelumne dam option, nonprofit groups the Foothill Conservancy, Friends of the River, and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance sued the agency. In April 2011, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Timothy Frawley ruled in favor of the environmental groups, and ordered East Bay MUD to redo its environmental impact report. Frawley also criticized East Bay MUD for shunning the Los Vaqueros option. On Tuesday, East Bay MUD released its updated EIR, which excludes the Mokelumne dam proposal.
Nonetheless, the river is not out of danger. Environmentalists are pushing the federal government to declare the stretch above the existing Pardee Reservoir to be "wild and scenic," a designation that would ban any new dams. But East Bay MUD board President John Coleman told the Contra Costa Times that the agency will continue to oppose the wild and scenic designation for that section of the river because it may want to build a dam there in the future.