Spot Check: The Wild and Scenic Mokelumne River

 

By Michael Wier
CalTrout Field Reporter


 

 

Cover Photo: Mokelumne River Middle Bar by Mike Wier

The Wild and Scenic Mokelumne River

The Fight to Save the Moke

I’m proud to call the Mokelumne my home river. 

Over the past few decades, I have seen the poppies bloom in spring, the blackberries ripen in summer, the leaves drop in fall, and the birds come and go in winter.

I’ve spent a lifetime exploring the river as much as possible, fishing many different sections and keeping detailed notes and a fishing log to monitor fish populations and wildlife encounters.

 

 

Lasting Impacts from the Gold Rush

In Western settler history, the Mokelumne was ground zero of the Mother Lode deposit that sparked the California Gold Rush. During the time from the mid-1800s to the early-1900s the river was heavily impacted by settler colonization.

Much of the Mokelumne was permanently altered from its natural state.  The lower elevation river channels were stripped down to bedrock and all the substrate rolled through slush boxes.

In addition, millions of tons of dirt and silt were stripped from the hillsides and flushed through the river to the delta.  Ecologically, the river is still recovering but will never be the same. 

These days the Mokelumne is still a hard-working river.  There are 5 powerhouses and a network of dams built in the early 1900s that provide hydropower to local communities, water for municipalities, firefighting, and flood control.  This network of infrastructure has helped the development of Amador and Calaveras County and is still a big part of the local water infrastructure. 

 

 

 

Photo: Gold mining on the Mokelumne by John Putnam

 

 

The Fight to Protect The Moke

For years, it was one of my favorite places to fish.  Then in 2008 everything changed when East Bay MUD publicly announced its 2040 water plan which included raising the dam on Pardee Reservoir by 40 feet which would flood all 3.5 miles of the Middle Bar section, past Hwy 49 and up another mile or so into the Electra Road section.  This plan called for replacing the Highway 49 bridge and taking out the historic Middle Bar bridge.

A heated battled ensued to protect this stretch of river from being lost. Luckily, the Moke is loved by locals and rallied a non-partisan response when it came to protecting our beloved local river. 

Dam removal opposition was led by the Foothill Conservancy who already had an existing campaign to protect the remaining free flowing stretches of the Moke with a Wild and Scenic River designation. 

Others joined in including CalTrout, TU, Friends of the River, The Sierra Club and OARS rafting company amongst many others.  The Foothill Conservancy already had a good working relationship with East Bay MUD and were respected as a strong voice for sustainable development and environmental protection.

And of course, as CalTrout turns 50 this year, there is no doubt of the expertise and clout they bring to the table when it comes to issues like this. 

As a member of the community who arguably fished that river more than most, and kept photo documentation, and written notes of fishing conditions of the years, I testified at a few board of supervisor meetings.

That was the first time I stood in front of a crowd and give an impassioned speech about protecting the places I know and love.  This issue hit close to home for me because it was literally my home waters at stake. 

The Middle Bar section was also one of the last river riparian zones left given that the next 15 miles of river was buried under Pardee and Comanche reservoirs. 

That habitat was critical to the long-term survival of some of California’s iconic wildlife has some of the best spawning habitat for wild trout in the entire river. 

Also, the proposed plan would have flooded the historic Middle Bar bridge which was a popular fishing spot for locals and one of the very few fishing spots accessible for disabled people and children. 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Rafting down the Moke by Mike Wier

 

Purchase tickets today for the Wild and Scenic Film Festival hosted by CalTrout.

 

 

 

In the video, I showed photos and videos of local wildlife and gave them all human voices to help make their fight for survival more relatable. 

In the end, the video helped tremendously.  The final video was selected for the Wild and Scenic Film Festival that year and was widely circulated throughout the state and especially in the communities that East Bay MUD serves. 

It helped turn the tide of public perception and resulted in East Bay MUD dropping the dam expansion proposal as part of their future water plan.  It was a huge victory for the Foothill Conservancy, CalTrout and all the other local river advocates. 

 

 

 

In 2018 the Foothill Conservancy finally landed the Mokelumne on the state Wild and Scenic River list!  It was satisfying to see the campaign come around full circle. 

Thanks to the efforts of the Foothill Conservancy, CalTrout, TU, OARS, Friends of the River and others the remaining 37 miles of free-flowing river from Salt Springs dam to Pardee Reservoir will remain free flowing for future generations to enjoy as I have for all these years. 

I still love visiting and fishing the mighty Mokelumne year after year.  It makes me happy to visit the part of river that could have been destroyed and know that the efforts we put into protecting it had a lasting impact. 

This Thanksgiving I visited the river with my nephews and brother and I felt proud to share it with the next generation and show them the same runs and fishing holes I used to enjoy at their age.

This solidified the resolve in me that good places are worth fighting for and if you stand up for what you love and believe in, you too can make a difference. 

Thanks for your continued support of CalTrout and helping our mission to protect the last wild rivers of California. 

-Michael Wier

 

 

Photo: Caught a Mokelumne River Brown Trout by Mike Wier

Read Previous Article
Craig’s Corner: Search for the Kern River Rainbow