Proposed reservoir expansion upsets residents

June 15, 2009 8:09:44 PM PDT
Those who live in several Sierra foothill communities near Pardee Reservoir are crying foul over an East Bay MUD proposal to greatly expand the facility to serve the needs of its Bay Area customers.

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To those who live there, the Mokelumne River is a precious jewel. Its crisp, clear water, lush vegetation and abundant wildlife draw locals and tourists alike.

"This is a place that's very special in our community, more than anywhere else actually," Calaveras County Supervisor Steve Wilensky said.

But many there worry the idyllic stretch of the Mokelumne could be swallowed up by the Bay Area's insatiable thirst for water.

The Mokelumne sits just downstream from Pardee Reservoir, the primary storage facility for EBMUD's 1.2 million customers.

"We know that our population and our service area is going to grow," EBMUD Board of Directors Member John Coleman said.

To serve that growth by the year 2040 and ensure ample supply in dry years, EBMUD has proposed expanding Pardee by more than 50 percent, raising its existing level 33 feet and flooding much of the Mokelumne.

A new 400-foot dam would be built a quarter mile downstream from the existing one.

The historic middle bar bridge would be removed.

"The idea of people washing their cars and their green lawns in suburbia at the expense of this very sacred place is pretty appalling from our perspective," Wilensky said.

"I think that if people understood what's at stake here as far as the recreation, the scenic beauty, the cultural and historical resources, they'd be happy to take shorter showers or maybe have smaller lawns," Foothill Conservancy spokesperson Katherine Evatt said.

Beyond that, critics say the proposed expansion would destroy important fish and wildlife habitat.

If EBMUD gets its way, at certain times of the year, the river would be 30 to 40 feet higher, creating what's known as a 'bathtub ring' effect. When the water recedes, it would leave an ugly scar along the river bank. Everything below it would be destroyed, including the willow shoots Native Americans use for basket-weaving.

"The map I've seen that shows the inundation is going to destroy even the feeder creeks going up on either side of the river, bringing water in," Native American spokesperson Fred Velasquez said.

Opponents say the Pardee expansion would also cost them another valuable resource -- money.

"We're probably looking at $1 million in gross sales in the area based on river participation," Jackson city councilman Keith Sweet said.

While the concerns of the locals may be persuasive, ultimately it will be up to EBMUD's board of directors to decide whether Pardee gets bigger.

"East Bay has come in almost like a colonial power, taking our resources with very little say," Wilensky said.

"We're looking at the year 2040, we're not looking at 2014; it takes forever to get a project done, we're not going to go forward if there's not support," Coleman said.

Still, those who want Pardee and the Mokelumne to stay just the way they are plan to flood the boardroom of EBMUD when it holds hearings on the proposed expansion in August.

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