North Fork American River ‘wild, scenic’ protections mooted

By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Media Life columnist
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What would the impact of a state Wild & Scenic River designation on the North Fork of the American River be on Placer County’s water supplies?

                That’s the question being considered by directors of the Placer County Water Agency who heard a presentation on the concept at Thursday’s board meeting.

                Einar Maisch, agency director of strategic affairs, said the Auburn Chamber of Commerce is considering a resolution requesting the Legislature designate a 16-mile section of the river and adjoining lands stretching upstream from Lake Clementine to the Colfax-Iowa Hill Bridge as wild and scenic.   State and federal wild and scenic designations already cover the river from that point up to its headwaters.

                Maisch described the proposal as an effort to protect recreational activities on federal land within the Auburn State Recreation area from being eliminated by the construction of a proposed Auburn Dam.  He said past efforts to build the dam were unsuccessful due to high costs and environmental impacts, and in addition the state has rescinded the water rights. 

Maisch also pointed out that Sugar Pine Dam is on a stream tributary to the river in the section proposed for wild and scenic designation and that future efforts to develop the water supply for Foresthill could be affected.

“This proposed designation of wild and scenic is something that is unnecessary and will only add additional regulatory burdens to local land owners and water purveyors,” Maisch said.

                Gary Estes, a spokesman for Protect American River Canyons (PARC), said his organization supports the designation, which he characterized as having minimum effects on landowners and property rights.  He said local water supplies would not be affected.

                PCWA legal adviser Janet Goldsmith said the Wild & Scenic River designation brings a very stringent layer of regulation.  “In light of future uncertainties about climate change, growth, and downstream responsibilities, is it wise to tie up the river?” she asked.  “There are a lot of policy and philosophical issues involved.”