[quote type=”center”] You need to be prepared to use any tool in the toolbox: community organizing, public education, community action, collaboration, negotiation, etc, and if none of those succeed, you need to be ready to go to court. [/quote]


Moke-River-LogoAn Introduction: How Our Foothill Conservancy Endorsement Came To Be: A few weeks ago Mike E. Wier shared on Patagonia’s blog The Cleanest Line the work he’d been doing to help protect the Moke River, the very place he and his family grew up playing in.

When he heard of plans for Easy Bay MUD to expand the Pardee Dam which would result in miles of flooding and the destruction of much of the river as seen in the graphic below Wier rose to the occasion to bring awareness to the issue not just by teaming up with Patagonia to share it with their audience, but also by spending the month filming for a documentary about the Moke River.

Well, Mike’s post inspired us and we decided that we needed to help take action. We got in touch with the people who have been working day and night to protect the Moke River and asked how we could help. Below you’ll find an interview with Katherine K. Evatt, president of the Foothill Conservancy’s board of directors.

For those of you that are activists standing for other environmental causes including this very one you’ll find her answers a great resource in terms of just how to fight for what you’re protecting, why its important to conserve the environment we take for granted everyday that surrounds us, and of course, how you can get more involved in helping their cause.

Throughout the process of of conserving the Moke River, what have been some of the biggest setbacks and biggest successes along the way?

Our effort to conserve the Mokelumne has been a steady slog toward stewardship. We’ve had huge victories — we stopped the proposed Devil’s Nose Dam in the 1990s, secured better flows in the river through the relicensing of the hydro project on the river, and gained public access to the Moke’s Middle Bar reach. Most recently, we organized opposition to the Pardee Dam expansion and won the lawsuit against East Bay MUD, which is moving the water agency toward more-sustainable water supply options.

I would say our biggest setback was when the Amador County Board of Supervisors took a position opposing National Wild and Scenic River designation for the Mokelumne. But we’ve learned from the river. We keep moving toward our goal no matter what.

We’ll go around, over, under or through this temporary obstacle, or we’ll just wear it away until we can secure permanent protection for the Moke.

How important was community awareness and involvement in the win against the expansion of Pardee Dam by East Bay MUD?

Oh, it made all the difference in the world. Our community and folks in the East Bay rose up and spoke with one voice against the larger dam and for the river, which led our local governments to oppose the dam, too. It made a huge impact with East Bay MUD, even thought we didn’t get the vote we wanted originally. It enabled us to raise enough money to carry out a successful lawsuit. And it’s going to lead East Bay MUD to drop the dam expansion proposal. The fact that such a diverse group of people opposed this new dam has been critical for protecting the Mokelumne, and it’ll be critical in securing long-term protection of the river.

Many people underestimate the drastic changes a dam can have on an eco-system. What are some of the fish and wildlife species that rely on the river?

The upper Mokelumne River is a deep, forested canyon that supports a dynamic ecosystem that includes diverse forest wildlife and birds, such as California spotted owls, goshawks, black bears, deer, mountain lions, bobcats, ringtails and Northern flying squirrels. The river is home to native and some planted rainbow trout, brown trout and brook trout, foothill yellow-legged frogs. At higher elevations, the watershed is home to rare Yosemite toads and Sierra Nevada yellow-legged frogs. Historically, the river was also spawning habitat for salmon and steelhead, but they’re now blocked from the upper river by large dams downstream. We hope to restore the salmon and steelhead to the upper river some day.

When it comes to activist initiatives, what are some of the legal issues one must think about or go through in order to get the ball rolling?

Well, it always helps to know what your all of your options are as you begin any conservation effort. You need to know what tools you can use in addition to and before you take legal action. You need to be prepared to use any tool in the toolbox: community organizing, public education, community action, collaboration, negotiation, etc, and if none of those succeed, you need to be ready to go to court. To do that, you have to lay the groundwork for your legal case along the way, but how you do that depends on which laws are being violated and what your options are for ensuring they’re followed.


Can you tell us a little about the National Wild and Scenic River System and what long term protection means for the Mokelumne River?

The National Wild and Scenic River System was established by the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, passed by Congress in 1968. The law was intended to balance the development of the nation’s rivers for water and hydropower with the protection of rivers in perpetuity. The rivers must have significant cultural, natural or recreational values or a combination of them. (The Mokelumne has all three.) There are 203 National Wild and Scenic Rivers in 38 states and Puerto Rico.

That may sound like a lot, but it’s only a little more than a quarter of one percent of the rivers in the country. The main thing Wild and Scenic designation does is stop new dams and diversions on the designated river reaches, to make sure those river sections stay “free-flowing” for generations to come.

For the Mokelumne, designation would prevent the construction of new dams or diversion on about 37 miles of river that have been found eligible for this national distinction. That would keep the river open for recreation; protect scenic beauty, wildlife and the fishery; protects the valuable cultural and historical resources along the river; and benefit our local economy. Designation would allow us to move beyond fights about how much of the Moke is going to be here in the future to how best to restore it. Wild and Scenic designation for the Mokelumne requires an act of Congress.

The Moke River doesn’t just act as a source for water and an eco-system. There is history built into its banks dating back centuries ago. 

The number and quality of American Indian archaeological sites in the North Fork Mokelumne canyon makes it a very important place for studying California’s cultural history.The upper Mokelumne River was home to native people for thousands of years. Families would move up and down the river with the seasons, living on the abundant fish, plants and game.

They also used the river as a trade route to the Eastern Sierra and the Central Valley. When you hike into the river canyon, you often see the bedrock milling stations used for grinding acorns. Local Miwuk people still gather plants along the river for baskets and cradle boards, and in the process teach their children their language and culture.

There’s Gold Rush and more-recent history, too. Areas along the river were the site of mines, mills and entire towns – and you can still see their stone foundations. The canyons are lined by old flumes and canals that were used to move water for mining. The Moke was the site of some of California’s earliest hydroelectric development, too. There were some really colorful characters who figure in the river’s history, including a Polish count who married into California’s famed Crocker family.

East Bay MUD is now looking into alternative options for water storage. What are some of these methods, and what are there benefits over damning?

On-stream, river-destroying dams are 19th century technology. Fortunately, East Bay MUD is now moving toward 21st century solutions for water supply.

They have a pretty good water conservation program, and they’re going to expand that. They’ll be recycling more wastewater. They’re looking at restoring and using groundwater in the their own area and the Central Valley. They may also join in the expansion of the Los Vaqueros Reservoir, which is in their East Bay backyard. That’s an offstream reservoir, so it doesn’t destroy a river to add more water supply. East Bay MUD is also involved in a pilot desalination project, which is not without controversy.

All of these options except desal are cheaper than a new dam on the Mokelumne, and none of them destroys miles of river that are valuable for recreation, cultural and historic resources, and wildlife habitat.

Mike E. Wier took helping the Mokelumne River into his own hands by creating a documentary about the river and How else can people get involved in their own ways?

First, people can go to www.savethemoke.com and sign on to endorse National Wild and Scenic River designation for the Mokelumne River. We need people from all across the country to support protecting this special river for future generations. We also need people to share information about this issue on Facebook, Twitter and their blogs and websites. They can join the Protect the Mokelumne River Facebook group. We always need donations to keep working for the river, too. People can also help out by buying our great Save the Moke t-shirts, wine and cycling jerseys. For other action ideas, they can go to www.savethemoke.com/act

Katherine-Evatt Katherine K. Evatt, a resident of Volcano, CA, is president of the Foothill Conservancy’s board of directors. She has worked for Mokelumne River conservation and restoration for more than 22 years. Katherine loves rivers and rafting, as well as hiking in the nearby Sierra, wildflower watching and other outdoor activities.

The Foothill Conservancy is a small, community-based advocacy nonprofit organization in California’s central Sierra Nevada foothills. The group is seeking National Wild and Scenic River designation for the Mokelumne River and welcomes your endorsement and support.

Picture of the Mokelumne River by Chris Austin.

About The Author

Lauren Rains is the editor at large of Outdoor Minded Mag. She is struck by wanderlust, and spends most waking hours of her life either exploring the outdoors around the globe or working on various passion projects be it film to microadventures to cooking chili. You can read about her adventures in life, biz and travel on her blog TheMadToLive.com, and catch up with her on Twitter at @LaurRAINS.

One Response

  1. Ron Forbes

    I’m glad to see that Mike has done this documentary. This film, as his others, is of excellent quality.

    As Conservation Chair of Delta Fly Fishers, I’ve had the pleasure of working with Randy Berg and the Foothill Conservancy in the past against East Bay MUD and will continue to do so.

    Specifically, what can we to to help?

    Ron Forbes