The California Legislature protected 37 miles of the Mokelumne River in the western Sierra Nevada in 2018. The bill passed after the California Natural Resources Agency (CNRA) a Legislature-mandated conducted a study of the river, finding that it was free-flowing and possessed extraordinary scenic and recreation values. The study help resolve water rights concerns by local water agencies who had previously opposed efforts to protect the river.
The protected segments of the Mokelumne begin just downstream of Salt Springs Dam and flow 37 miles down to a point just upstream of Highway 49. Much of the river flows through federal public lands managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. These agencies had previously determined portions of the river to be eligible and suitable for national wild and scenic protection.
Extraordinary values of the river identified in the CNRA study include its diverse scenic values derived from the many ecosystems, vegetation types, and steep canyons through which the river flows. Thick forests and oak savanna, high and steeply sloping canyon walls, frequent rapids and plunge pools, and large boulders, rock slabs, and granite domes dominating the upper canyon, all contribute to the river’s unique scenery.
The Mokelumne’s extraordinary and diverse recreation values include a wide range of easy and technical whitewater boating, camping, hiking, fishing, hunting, rock climbing, wildflower and historical site appreciation, and water-oriented family recreation. Previous federal studies had also identified the river’s Native American cultural values and Gold Rush history to be outstanding (but these values are not recognized in the state system).