In a compromise expected to win congressional approval, two California representatives have agreed on legislation to protect 92 miles of the Kings River in Central California, including a scenic 11-mile stretch targeted for a project to provide irrigation and hydroelectric power.
The deal worked out late Tuesday night by Reps. Richard Lehman (D-Sanger) and Charles Pashayan Jr. (R-Fresno) designates 81 miles of the river as part of the national Wild and Scenic Rivers system. It provides the same protection for the controversial 11-mile stretch without formally placing it in the system.
Thus, the door would be left slightly ajar for eventual development of the lower Kings if Congress should go along. However, Sen. Alan Cranston (D-Calif.), who backs the compromise along with Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), predicted through an aide that Congress would never agree to dam and flood the disputed area.
The House Interior Committee approved the compromise by voice vote Wednesday, setting the stage for expected swift passage on the House and Senate floors.
Lehman had sought to incorporate all 92 miles into the national wild rivers system, and Pashayan had sought to exclude 11 miles to allow construction of the proposed Rodgers Crossing Dam.
The Kings River Conservation District, a consortium of 28 San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts with a farming population of about 75,000, said the 510-foot-high dam and resulting reservoir are needed to help reduce a severe drain on ground water supplies.
White-water rafters, hikers and other conservationists countered that the dam would destroy the natural beauty of Kings Canyon and provide little water for valley irrigators.
The Kings River courses out of the Sierra Nevada and Kings Canyon National Park through one of the deepest canyons in North America. From its headwaters near the Sierra crest to Pine Flat Dam above Fresno, the river falls 11,449 feet--the greatest undammed drop of any river in the United States. It is California's largest wild trout fishery.
As part of their agreement, Lehman and Pashayan asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to study enlarging the existing Pine Flat Dam as an alternative to the proposed Rodgers Crossing Dam.
Lehman said, "We have effectively prevented construction of Rodgers Crossing Dam without new congressional approval by some future Congress."
Pashayan said the agreement "accommodates both those who adamantly oppose a dam on the Kings River and those who insist that the possibility of building a dam in the future might be kept alive."
Besides protecting the river, the compromise legislation places the area--which lies in both the Sierra and Sequoia national forests--under unified federal management. Lehman said this primarily would increase protection for wildlife in the area.
"The Kings deer herd, which numbered 17,000 in 1953, is down to 1,900 now," Lehman said. "We feel that wildlife have not been adequately protected because the area falls on the edge of two national forests."