Thrill-seekers may be able to pay to get wet and wild on a scenic stretch of the Mokelumne River as soon as next summer.
The federal Bureau of Land Management is leading a study on the viability of commercial runs down the Electra-Middle Bar run of more than five miles of moderate Class II rapids. The plan is up for public review and the public is invited to comment on the plan at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the chambers of the Jackson City Council, 33 Broadway St., Jackson, in the Amador County seat.
Trips on the Electra-Middle Bar run have been limited for years to private whitewater enthusiasts and a couple of fundraising trips each year, including those guided by Angels Camp-based O.A.R.S. to benefit the Calaveras Youth Mentoring Program.
A three-year trial run of limited commercial excursions gained the blessing last year of the BLM in conjunction with the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which collects Mokelumne River water in the nearby Pardee and Camanche reservoirs for its customers' use, and Pacific Gas and Electric, which generates hydroelectric power from dams on the river.
The BLM will be assessing impacts to water quality, natural and Miwok cultural resources and traffic and parking, according to BLM Recreation Planner Jeff Horn.
Horn said the expectation is that there will be no significant impact "but we will get a feel for what it looks like on a short-term basis and not make any promises."
"It has the potential to be a great thing for the foothills. This is a beautiful stretch of river … filled with many kinds of birds and wildlife to see," he said. "It would also bring in people who buy groceries and get gas in town. The peripheral economic spinoff is good for the local economy."
Horn said BLM has recently gotten positive feedback from the completion of a legal put-in/take-out spot at Big Bar just below the Highway 49 bridge on the northern end of Calaveras County.
The number of trips allowed on the river would increase after the first summer and level out the second and third years, Horn said.
The expansion of rafting on the river is expected to be greeted warmly by Calaveras and Amador counties' residents who vocally countered an ill-fated EBMUD plan to raise the Pardee Dam in coming decades and flood the run, dooming any hope for continued whitewater recreation on the Middle Bar run.
Faced with a Sacramento County Superior Court ruling against an initial environmental review of the plan and popular opposition, the Alameda County utility abandoned the Pardee expansion earlier this year.