Federal Government Settles Lawsuit Over 'Wild and Scenic' California Rivers
Under a new legal settlement, the federal government has agreed to present plans to protect eight California rivers and streams that Congress designated years ago as “wild and scenic” rivers.
The agreement ends a lawsuit by the Center for Biological Diversity, which sued in March to demand President Donald Trump’s administration develop plans for the rivers.
Under the settlement, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Tuesday, the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management will be required to finish management plans to protect the rivers and streams by 2024.
“We wanted to move the ball forward on getting these plans put in place and having it be an open, public process so that people can weigh in on their favorite rivers,” said Ileene Anderson, a senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “At least we have a timeline, whereas before they could have gone on indefinitely before they got to the plans.”
All of the rivers and streams are in Southern California and received their designations under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act in 2009.
“They were supposed to have produced these plans three years after the designations, but without anyone challenging them, they just put them on the back burner,” Anderson said. “This is a victory for some of Southern California’s most beautiful rivers. Too bad it took a lawsuit to get federal officials to do the right thing.”
The lawsuit focused on protections for portions of the spring-fed Amargosa River in the Mojave Desert, Owens Headwaters and Cottonwood Creek in Inyo County, Piru Creek in Ventura County and four streams in Riverside County: the North Fork of the San Jacinto River, Fuller Mill Creek, Bautista Creek and Palm Canyon Creek.
The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, which was enacted by Congress in 1968, is aimed at protecting rivers deemed to have special value as wilderness areas. Under the law, the federal government is required to prepare management plans to “protect and enhance” the rivers.
The Center for Biological Diversity said management plans for the streams should ensure that the flow of water and water quality are protected from a variety of threats, such as excessive groundwater pumping, off-road vehicles or livestock grazing.
Spokespeople for the federal agencies did not respond to emails requesting their comments on the settlement.
Palm Canyon Creek flows into the Indian Canyons on the Agua Caliente Indian Reservation in Palm Springs and sustains its famed oasis of desert fan palms.
Wetlands along the Amargosa River sustain rare animals such as the Amargosa vole, one of North America’s most endangered mammals. The voles live only in patches of wetlands scattered across the desert east of Death Valley National Park, and the wetlands depend on water from the flowing springs.
Threats to the river include groundwater pumping, water diversions and the effects of climate change.