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12/16/2011

Keep the Lower Merced River Wild and Scenic

Merced at Yosemite FallsThe Merced River courses over the top of Yosemite Falls (Image: Terry Chay via Flickr)

Over three million visitors a year enjoy the iconic vistas of Yosemite National Park, yet many never learn the name of the river that shares the views of breath-taking ridges, steep, forested slopes, or flows down its waterfalls. The Merced River’s headwaters lie in the Park’s southeast corner, from which it flows 145 miles through scenic Yosemite Valley and the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

The Merced River is the source of almost incalculable benefits for local communities, providing water, power, and millions of dollars in tourism and outdoor recreation. Whitewater enthusiasts come from around the world to raft the waters of the Lower Merced, where a Wild and Scenic River designation protects dozens of miles of the free-flowing river from harmful development and activities. Whitewater rafting sustains twelve businesses in Mariposa County alone, bringing in an estimated $2.5 million a year to the local economy.

Now, many fear what will happen to these businesses if proposed legislation from Representative Jeff Denham passes through Congress. H.R. 869 and H.R. 2578 would remove a short segment the Merced River from its Wild and Scenic protections to raise the reservoir ten feet and inundate perhaps an additional half mile to the twenty-four miles currently inundated by the dams downstream.. This change would inundate hiking trails, submerge at least one campsite, and make stagnant waters out of current rafting areas. Rep. Denham says the amendment will allow for increased water storage and power generation, which has locals asking: for whose benefit? Denham’s short bill does not clarify, but some suspect the intended beneficiary is big agriculture downstream, although raising this dam—that has never filled and spilled in its history—would generate little meaningful water.

Merced raftersRafters enjoy the waters of Mariposa County (Image: RandomTruth via Flickr)

In his testimony for the Bureau of Land Management, Director Robert Abbey opposed the bill on the grounds of habitat inundation for numerous threatened species, including the yellow-legged frog and the limestone salamander. An increase in flood levels would also destroy the seed banks of sensitive plant species. Lastly, it would mark the first de-designation of a Wild and Scenic River to drown under a reservoir in congressional history, establishing a dangerous precedent for America’s 12,600 miles of federally protected waters. Making lake-like conditions out of the Yosemite Valley’s famous river would compromise its integrity for future generations and threaten current jobs.

 “The Sierra Club is adamantly opposed to the misguided bills by Congressman Denham to delete a portion of the Merced River from its Wild and Scenic Status,” stated Alan Carlton, chair of the California Nevada Regional Conservation Committee of the Sierra Club. “Our wild rivers are a precious national resource, and there is no reason to remove even one inch from protected status—and certainly not to provide more water for large corporate interests.”

In a press release, Rep. Denham recognized that “we are dependent on water for jobs and to sustain our local economy.” Let’s not forget that many of these jobs depend on the scenic values of the river as it stands now.

 

Read the legislation here.

Take action by urging your Congressmembers to oppose these bills.

 

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