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April 2005

IF IT AIN'T BROKE, DON'T FIX IT

LOCAL INTERESTS OPPOSE CACHE CREEK WILD AND SCENIC DESIGNATION

Assemblymember Lois Wolk has introduced Assembly Bill 1328, a legislative proposal that would place a 31-mile segment of Cache Creek into the states wild and scenic rivers system. However, there are serious concerns whether that change would actually help or harm the creek. This proposal is basically a solution looking for a problem – where none exists.

In response to this proposed legislation, the Cache Creek Preservation Coalition (CCPC) was formed by numerous concerned stakeholders in an effort to protect the resource values of the creek, as well as the ongoing, locally driven, collaborative process that has served this watershed so well over the years.

The subject stretch of Cache Creek proposed for designation is primarily located in Yolo and Lake Counties, with a small stretch that also forms a portion of the Colusa County border. Local public agencies, communities, farmers, environmentalists, and recreational enthusiasts have been working together for generations to preserve this vital resource. These local efforts have been successful, resulting in a well managed, environmentally sound watershed that serves the interests of all. As such, the question must be asked, why fix what isn’t broken?

California’s Wild and Scenic River system was created to protect stream courses which are "natural and free flowing." Cache creek is neither; the stream flows are completely regulated by dams upstream. In fact, the creek would not be flowing at all for many months of the year if it were not for releases from these dams. Also, a wild and scenic designation would subordinate all of the current uses of the creek, and all of the management efforts that protect it, to the sole purpose of keeping it natural and free-flowing, declaring that to be the highest and best use of the water in the creek.

As a result, flood control for public safety, irrigation for farms, recreation, and water supplies for the communities downstream would all become secondary uses, of lower priority and therefore subject to restriction if they are in conflict with the nonexistent "natural and free flowing" character of the creek.

Further, numerous beneficial activities that have been occurring along Cache Creek may be immediately threatened by a wild and scenic river designation, including: the control of mercury pollution; protection of the area from invasive, non-native vegetation; and increased efforts at water conservation through conjunctive use.

Cache Creek has been deemed an impaired waterway due to the large amount of mercury that filters into the Creek. This has caused water quality problems within this waterway, the Sacramento River, and the Delta. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act specifically prescribes that the waters of the designated stretch be unpolluted, thus illustrating that Cache Creek is not fit for designation. Moreover, the designation is likely to result in burdensome regulatory hurdles to pursue remedies to address this problem.

Perhaps most important, AB 1328 in its present form, threatens to undercut a water conservation program that is currently pending before the State Water Resources Control Board. This is a critically needed, environmentally responsible plan that embraces the principles of conjunctive use that are championed by the CALFED Program to protect groundwater resources and the flows in the creek during wet and dry years.

Lastly, some proponents of this policy action have publicly stated that their goal is to have Cache Creek Designated under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act within the next ten years. A federal designation will severely restrict the ability of the Cache Creek Watershed Forum from continuing its ongoing, successful work with multiple local stakeholders involved in protecting the Creek, and may serve to negatively impact existing water rights upon which farmers in Yolo County rely to irrigate their cropland.

This proposal is a divisive and unnecessary action that could threaten many of the resource values that the local communities have worked so hard to protect. Additionally, it undermines the local control and cooperation among the diverse groups that have been working for years to protect Cache Creek. The very concepts promoted by AB 1405, another Lois Wolk bill that was enacted last year entitled the California Watershed and Protection Act, which promotes voluntary local and collaborative partnerships for watershed stewardship. Ironically, the Assemblywoman’s current proposal is in direct conflict with her previous bill that promotes the very activities that the opponents to Wild and Scenic endorse.

The proponents of Wild and Scenic claim the need for the designation is to prevent dams from being built on this portion of the creek. But the bill is completely unnecessary for that purpose. No dams are proposed for that area. In fact, experts say that no dams in the designated area are even possible. They are not feasible politically, financially or from an engineering standpoint. Also, the opponents, in an effort to compromise, have specifically agreed to a legislative prohibition of dams on this designated stretch.

Moreover the segment of the creek affected by the proposed designation does not even flow through the district that Assemblymember Wolk represents, and the proponents of the bill are primarily special interest environmental organizations from outside of the watershed, including: The California Wilderness Coalition, Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense, Friends of the River, and The Bay Institute.

Assemblymember La Malfa, who represents the majority of the subject area, is opposed to the proposed wild and scenic designation.

The Yolo County Board of Supervisors voted to support the Wild and Scenic designation (4-1), however that support is dependent on amendments to the bill that address several of the resource concerns expressed by the local stakeholders. Yolo County Supervisor Duane Chamberlain, who represents the subject area, voted to oppose the designation. The Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, whose board members are appointed by the Yolo County Board of Supervisors as experts in regard to the water issues specifically pertaining to the subject waterway, unanimously voted to oppose this legislation. a fact overlooked by the Yolo Supervisors in voting to support.

A small sampling of the opponents to the Cache Creek Wild and Scenic designation include the following: The Colusa County Board of Supervisors, Lake County Board of Supervisors (unless amended), the City of Woodland, Whitewater Adventures and Cache Canyon River Trips, Inc. (rafting companies along the creek), The Cache Creek Conservancy, Lake and Yolo County Resource Conservation Districts, and Colusa, Yolo and Lake County Farm Bureaus. This list represents almost all of the affected stakeholders, from a variety of sectors, who work, farm, recreate, and undertake environmental stewardship activities within the Cache Creek watershed.

Local control, respect for water rights and private property rights, water use efficiency, water quality, flood control, recreation, and local environmental stewardship practices are all at issue in this debate. If you wish to find out more information, please feel free to contact FWA or go to preservecachecreek.com.

 

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