SMUD short-circuits the river

Nate Rangel is owner of a commercial rafting company in El Dorado County and president of California Outdoors, a state trade association for professional river outfitters

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District has filed for another 50-year license on the Upper American River Project, which contains eight dams. These dams control almost all the water available for whitewater boating on the upper American River.

For whitewater recreation on the two enormously popular runs below Chili Bar Dam, SMUD’s application provides a mere nine to 32 hours of flow a week in the summer and no reliable, predictable or quantifiable amounts or times during the rest of the year. SMUD offers no whitewater opportunities below Slab Creek Dam and only a few hours per year below Ice House Dam.

Almost no one fishes in the UARP streams; there’s not enough water to make it worthwhile. SMUD’s proposed flow increases for fish and other river critters charitably could be called “cosmetic improvements.”

An independent 2005 poll found that a majority of SMUD ratepayers fish, bicycle, hike, swim, camp, canoe, kayak, raft or ride horses in and around SMUD reservoirs and streams. Ninety-five percent of those polled think it’s important to provide sufficient water for fish, wildlife and plants. Another 83 percent want more predictable flows of water for fish, wildlife and recreation.

Opposition among these recreational users to SMUD’s Yolo County annexation initiative is increasing because without a resolution for the UARP, any expansion of SMUD’s service area and electrical needs poses a direct threat to both aquatic resources and recreational interests.

State and federal resource agencies (including California Fish and Game, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, California State Parks, the state water board, the U.S. Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service), along with Friends of the River and other outdoors groups, have jointly proposed an alternative to SMUD’s lopsided demand for absolute control of the river’s water. This proposal will affect only 1 percent of SMUD’s total power-generation capacity.

For more information about this impending tragedy to our river, please contact Restore Our American River at 915 20th Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, or at (916) 442-3155, ext. 204. Additionally, contact the SMUD Board of Directors and tell it to follow the heritage of environmental concern and community cooperation that has made its utility a source of pride in the past.

There’s only one American River in our country. Its future lies in your hands.