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California Wild and Scenic Rivers

Such use of these rivers is the highest and most beneficial use

By Chris Micheli, August 22, 2022 6:19 am

California has numerous formal acts in statute. Public Resources Code Division 5, Chapter 1.4 provides the California Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which is contained in Sections 5093.50 to 5093.71. Chapter 1.4 was added in 1982 by Chapter 1259.

Section 5093.50 provides that it is the policy of the State of California that certain rivers which possess extraordinary scenic, recreational, fishery, or wildlife values shall be preserved in their free-flowing state, together with their immediate environments, for the benefit and enjoyment of the people of the state.

In addition, the Legislature declares that such use of these rivers is the highest and most beneficial use and is a reasonable and beneficial use of water within the meaning of Section 2 of Article X of the California Constitution. It is the purpose of this chapter to create a California Wild and Scenic Rivers System to be administered in accordance with the provisions of this chapter.

Section 5093.51 names the chapter. Section 5093.52 provides definitions for the following terms: “secretary”; “Resources Agency”; “river”; “free-flowing”; “system”; “land use regulation”; “director”; “immediate environments”; “special treatment areas”; and, “board.”

Section 5093.53 provides that those rivers or segments of rivers included in the system are to be classified as wild rivers, scenic rivers, or recreational rivers. Section 5093.54 specifies that the following rivers and segments are designated as components of the system:

Klamath River

Trinity River

Smith River

Eel River

American River

West Walker River

Carson River

The South Yuba River

Albion River

Gualala River

Cache Creek 

Mokelumne River

In addition, other rivers which qualify for inclusion in the system may be recommended to the Legislature by the secretary.

Section 5093.541 provides that no dam, reservoir, diversion, or other water impoundment facility is to be constructed on any of the following tributaries of the Smith River:

Dominie Creek.

Rowdy Creek.

South Fork Rowdy Creek.

Savoy Creek.

Little Mill Creek.

Bummer Lake Creek.

East Fork Mill Creek.

West Branch Mill Creek.

Rock Creek.

Goose Creek.

East Fork Goose Creek.

Mill Creek.

Section 5093.542 provides legislative findings and declarations that the McCloud River possesses extraordinary resources in that it supports one of the finest wild trout fisheries in the state. Portions of the river have been appropriately designated by the Fish and Game Commission as wild trout waters, with restrictions on the taking, or method of taking, of fish. 

In addition, the Legislature has determined, based upon a review of comprehensive technical data evaluating resources and potential beneficial uses, that potential beneficial uses must be balanced, in order to achieve protection of the unique fishery resources of the McCloud River, as follows:

Section 5093.545 establishes the classifications by the secretary for the rivers or segments of rivers included in the system as adopted as recreational, scenic, or wild. Each river is listed, along with its classification.

Section 5093.546 provides that classification or reclassification of rivers or segments of rivers within the system as wild, scenic, or recreational is to be by statute. The secretary may recommend legislation to classify or reclassify rivers or segments of rivers within the system, and may include specific land use restrictions relative to each particular classification in such recommendations.

Section 5093.547 requires the secretary to study and submit to the Governor and the Legislature reports on the suitability or nonsuitability for addition to the system of rivers or segments thereof which are designated by the Legislature as potential additions to the system. The secretary must report to the Legislature his or her recommendations and proposals with respect to the designation of a river or segment.

Section 5093.55 specifies that, other than temporary floor storage facilities permitted, no dam, reservoir, diversion, or other water impoundment facility may be constructed on any river and segment thereof designated in Section 5093.54; nor may a water diversion facility be constructed on the river and segment unless and until the secretary determines that the facility is needed to supply domestic water to the residents of the county or counties through which the river and segment flows, and unless and until the secretary determines that the facility will not adversely affect the free-flowing condition and natural character of the river and segment.

Section 5093.56 prohibits any department or agency of the state from assisting or cooperating, whether by loan, grant, license, or otherwise, with any department or agency of the federal, state, or local government, in the planning or construction of a dam, reservoir, diversion, or other water impoundment facility that could have an adverse effect on the free-flowing condition and natural character of the rivers and segments thereof designated in Section 5093.54 as included in the system.

Section 5093.57 states that nothing in this chapter is to be construed to prohibit any measures for flood protection, structural or nonstructural, necessary for the protection of lives and property along the Eel River, except for dams, reservoirs, or other water impoundment structures; provided, however, that such measures for flood protection may include facilities for temporary flood storage or flood storage basins on tributaries of the Eel River.

Section 5093.58 states that this chapter neither diminishes the power of the secretary or any other state or local official or agency under any other statute, nor conveys any authority, express or implied, to the secretary or any state or local agency, commission, board, or official to adopt or implement any interim or permanent order, rule, regulation, guideline, or directive concerning land use regulation.

Section 5093.60 requires the Resources Agency to be responsible for coordinating the activities of state agencies whose activities affect the rivers in the system with those of other state, local, and federal agencies with jurisdiction over matters which may affect the rivers.

Section 5093.61 requires all departments and agencies of the state to exercise their powers granted under any other provision of law in a manner that protects the free-flowing state of each component of the system and the extraordinary values for which each component was included in the system. All local government agencies must exercise their powers granted under any other provision of law in a manner consistent with the policy and provisions of this chapter.

Section 5093.62 states that nothing in this chapter is to affect the jurisdiction or responsibility of the state with regard to fish, wildlife, or their habitat. Hunting and fishing may be permitted on lands and waters administered as parts of the system under applicable state or federal laws and regulations.

Section 5093.63 states that nothing in this chapter is to be construed to permit or require the reservation, use, or taking of private property for scenic, fishery, wildlife, or recreation purposes, for inclusion in the system or for other public use, without just compensation.

Section 5093.64 provides that, if any provision of this chapter or the application thereof to any person or circumstances is held invalid, such invalidity shall not affect other provisions or applications of the chapter which can be given effect without the invalid provision or application, and to this end the provisions of this chapter are severable.

Section 5093.66 provides legislative findings and declarations that the enactment of this section is necessary in order to allow certain extraction and refinement of strategic metals at a site, certain exclusions from the system, classifications as recreational, and other provisions.

Section 5093.67 states that, in order to enhance the recreational qualities of rivers where temporary summer recreational dams have been constructed in the past to improve water oriented recreational opportunities for the public, the secretary may authorize the emplacement of temporary impoundments for recreational purposes on portions of rivers included in the system which are classified as recreational, if the secretary finds all of the specified criteria.

Section 5093.68 states that, within the boundaries of special treatment areas adjacent to wild, scenic, or recreational river segments, all of the specified provisions are to apply, in addition to any other applicable provision under this chapter or generally, whether by statute or regulation.

Section 5093.69 requires the Resources Agency to conduct studies specifically funded by the Legislature relative to the condition of the system and may make recommendations to the Legislature for protection and enhancement of the system. In addition, the director is required to conduct studies specifically funded by the Legislature and to make recommendations relating to specified actions.

Section 5093.70 provides legislative findings and declarations that no new dam, reservoir, diversion, or other water impoundment facilities are to be constructed in certain areas.

Section 5093.71 provides that, if (1) the federal government enacts a statute that, upon enactment, would require the removal or delisting of any river or segment of a river in California that is included in the national wild and scenic rivers system and not in the state wild and scenic rivers system, or (2) the secretary determines that the federal government by enactment of a statute or by executive order has exempted a river or segment of a river in California that is included in the national wild and scenic rivers system and not in the state wild and scenic rivers system from federal law governing restrictions on water resources projects, that protect rivers, segments of rivers, or values for which those rivers were established as part of the national system, the secretary must take two specified actions:

Any action taken under this section to add and designate a river or segment of the river as wild, scenic, or recreational under the state wild and scenic rivers system must take effect immediately upon the date of that designation, and remain in effect until December 31, 2025, or until the effective date of any statute enacted to remove or modify a river or segment of a river that was added to the state wild and scenic rivers system, whichever comes first.

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2 thoughts on “California Wild and Scenic Rivers

  1. If I am not mistaken the Merced river which flows out of Yosemite has also been designated as wild and scenic. Environmental groups have used this designation to try to remove ALL improvements in the park. Bike and raft rentals will be removed in the park as some sort of “offense” to the river even though the portion of the river in the valley is not part of the designated section. This is just one example of the over reach. Another is that they have used this law to cripple repairs to highway 140 at the Ferguson rock slide. It has been 16 years and Cal Trans has made ZERO progress in repairing the road damage due to all the restrictions. Highest and Best? BS! What this fancy sounding phrase really means is exclude all the people.

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