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China's New Leap : Protection Package for Rivers

October 27, 1987

The Merced River delights visitors with its scenic twists and turns as it flows through Yosemite National Park, as does the Kings River in Kings Canyon National Park and the Kern River in Sequoia National Park. These three rivers are generally well protected within those parks, but that protection ends at the parks' edges. Congress is finishing its work to add this protection for all three rivers, and President Reagan should sign all three bills.

Congress has already joined with its California members in declaring that the Merced and Kings rivers should be part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The legislation that established that system outlaws development of any sort on some portions of wild rivers, and controls recreational access and related development on others. The act was particularly aimed at halting the damming of America's wild rivers.

The Merced measure--backed by both California senators, Democrat Alan Cranston and Republican Pete Wilson, and by Rep. Tony Coelho (D-Merced)--would preclude the proposed construction of a small hydroelectric dam near El Portal, the gateway to Yosemite. The Kings River legislation--backed by both senators and Rep. Richard H. Lehman (D-Sanger)--would protect the river that flows out of Kings Canyon National Park through Fresno County.

Both bills contain compromises that enabled them to pass Congress. The Merced measure designates the lowest eight-mile section that it covers as a study area should Mariposa County officials decide to construct a second reservoir, although that does not mean that the reservoir could in fact be built. The Kings River bill designates one river stretch, where a dam has been proposed at Rodgers Crossing, as a special management area. This means that after three years a dam could be built. Environmentalists, who are used to eternal vigilance, contend that it will be hard to argue the merits of these projects on rivers once the rest of the river is protected by federal legislation.

The Kern River legislation was passed by the Senate on Oct. 1, and that Senate bill will come before a House interior subcommittee today. The Kern's north and south forks flow south out of Sequoia National Park, and would be protected up to the Tulare-Kern County line. There is limited local opposition to the designation because of inherent distrust of the federal government in those parts. In this case people would be far better off with the government on their side than not.

Now Congress should finish its work on this package of protection. It would be a reaffirmation of the value of these rivers to Californians and to the nation if the President would sign the measures and let the waters roll on.

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