Resolving Stakeholder Interests on the Lower Mokelumne River

Resolving Stakeholder Interests on the Lower Mokelumne River

by Robert Nuzum

The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) owns and operates Pardee and Camanche Reservoirs and 19,574 acres of surrounding watershed lands in the Central Sierra Nevada foothills. The upstream Pardee Dam impounds a 2,290 acre reservoir with a total capacity of 209,950 acre-feet, and has a hydroelectric generating capacity of 28.6MW. The downstream Camanche Dam impounds a 7,770 acre reservoir with a total capacity of 431,000 acre-feet, and has a hydroelectric generating capacity of 10.7MW. At full pool, the Camanche Reservoir tailwaters reach 10 miles upstream, almost to the base of Pardee Dam. The Lower Mokelumne River Hydroelectric Project is licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which regulates all activities on land and waterways owned by EBMUD in the Sierra foothills, including the protection of all public trust resources.

The Mokelumne River Watershed Basin above Pardee Reservoir drains an area of 595 square miles with an average annual runoff of 740K acre-feet. Approximately 95% of the domestic water supply to EBMUD's customers (1.2 million people) in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties comes directly from Pardee Reservoir. The other 5% comes from local terminal reservoir storage in the East Bay counties.

The lower Mokelumne River runs 29.6 miles from the base of Camanche Dam to the tidal influence of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The river contains a number of resident fish species and three anadromous species, including Pacific lamprey, fall-run Chinook salmon and steelhead. EBMUD manages this river fishery and monitors its contribution to the Bay-Delta ecosystem. The FERC Project lands terminate at EBMUD's ownership boundary a short distance below Camanche Dam, however, the river is still a regulated waterway by the FERC and by the California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board), which acts on behalf of the citizens of California in administering water rights and protecting public trust resources.

At the base of Camanche Dam lies the Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery (MRFH) which produces 4‚5 million fall-run Chinook salmon and 100K steelhead annually. The MRFH is owned by EBMUD, which completed its construction in 1964. The MRFH is operated by the California Department of Fish and Game under a long-term mitigation agreement with EBMUD.

In July, 1991, the FERC initiated a License Review to determine whether modifications to the Lower Mokelumne River Project facilities or reservoir operations were necessary for the conservation and protection of fish, wildlife and recreational resources on the Mokelumne River. And, in November 1992, the State Board initiated a water rights hearing to address similar issues relating to the appropriate use of EBMUD's water rights to the Mokelumne River.

Since 1987, EBMUD has, in cooperation with federal and state resource agencies, developed substantial scientific information on the limnology and water quality of Pardee and Camanche Reservoirs, the operation and production of salmon and steelhead at the MRFH and the riparian and upland habitat that exists in the lower Mokelumne River for fish, wildlife, invertebrates and plants. This comprehensive body of information was subsequently utilized by EBMUD to develop the Lower Mokelumne River Management Plan (Plan) and implement it voluntarily in 1993. And, in 1996, EBMUD, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the California Department of Fish and Game made further modifications in the Plan by developing a Joint Settlement Agreement (JSA) on the Lower Mokelumne River Project facilities and their operation which was voluntarily implemented by EBMUD. The JSA was submitted to the FERC for its consideration and was formally approved in November, 1998. The provisions of the JSA became a part of the final License amendment in March, 1999. The JSA provides additional in-stream flows, reservoir elevation goals, funding for non-flow enhancement measures, new fisheries and water quality study and monitoring requirements and new reporting objectives over the remainder of the FERC License period, which expires in 2031.

The JSA specifically: establishes a Partnership Steering Committee and a $2.0 million Partnership Fund (the interest from same is dedicated to Mokelumne River restoration measures); maintains EBMUD's comprehensive annual water quality and fisheries monitoring program throughout the Project waterways; establishes a lower Mokelumne River Stakeholders Group (including the Counties, Cities, environmental groups, Native Americans, Irrigation Districts and private property owners along the Mokelumne River); provides $12.5 million for reconstruction of the MRFH to develop a state-of-the-art production facility (currently in design); adopts protective river ramping rates; provides for notification of the Resource Agencies whenever surplus water on the Mokelumne River is available; provides substantial gainsharing water whenever EBMUD develops an additional water supply; adopts EBMUD's operating regime for Pardee and Camanche Reservoirs (including operation of the Camanche Reservoir Hypolimnetic Oxygenation System); approves establishment of a Lower Mokelumne River Ecosystem Protection Program; continues the oversight objectives of the Mokelumne River Technical Advisory Committee initiated by EBMUD in 1989; provides for publishing the Mokelumne River Science database; adopts the communication protocol developed by the JSA partners; and, requires EBMUD to hold periodic symposiums on the science of the Mokelumne River for the next 10-year period. The JSA will now be submitted to the State Board for concluding the Mokelumne River hearing record, which was initiated in 1992 and has been pending action by the FERC.