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Tracking measurable success on efforts across California to preserve and connect our Parks & Wildlife Corridors

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Sunday, October 26, 2008

State Proposes To Revoke Auburn Dam Water Rights


In a draft decision released today, the California State Water Board proposes to revoke the Bureau of Reclamation’s water rights to build the controversial Auburn Dam on the American River. Citing California’s tough “use it or lose it” water rights policy, the Water Board noted that the Bureau failed to construct the project and apply water to beneficial use with due diligence as required by state law.

Friends of the River has worked for over 33 years against the construction of Auburn Dam. Since its inception the dam has represented a project that was very expensive and destructive to the environment, while at the same time providing little benefit to the region. Friends of the River successfully convinced Congress to deny authorization and funding for the Auburn Dam in the 1990s. With no practical prospect of building the dam any time in the foreseeable future, the Bureau was unable to convince the Water Board that it deserved to retain its water rights. Without the state-granted right to store water behind the Auburn Dam, the Bureau will not be able to build the giant structure, which threatened to flood more than 50 miles of the American River.

Ron Stork, Friends of the River’s Senior Policy Advocate, has worked tirelessly in opposition to the dam for several years. His efforts to seek better flood protection for the Sacramento valley through improvements to Folsom Dam and regional levees made Auburn Dam practically unnecessary. More recently, Rob lobbied the Water Board to pursue the water rights revocation and prepared and submitted more than 400 pages of testimony. The draft decision from the Water Board is replete with references to Ron’s expert testimony.

The review of the Bureau’s water rights was prompted in part by a threatened lawsuit in 1999 by California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Lockyer noted that the Bureau was illegally diverting water from the North Fork American River at the former Auburn Dam construction site, even though the dam had never been built. Lockyer’s threat led to a recently completed project that closed the Auburn Dam diversion tunnel and restored flows in the surface channel of the river.

In a fortuitous juxtaposition with the Board’s proposed water rights decision, Friends of the River is presenting the prestigious Peter Behr Award to former Attorney General Bill Lockyer this Friday in San Francisco, for his role in restoring the North Fork American River.

The Water Board is scheduled to consider approval of the final order revoking the Auburn Dam water rights on December 2, 2008. Final revocation of the water rights will remove a significant threat to one of the few remaining free-flowing segments of the American River and the 40,000-acre Auburn State Recreation Area, which attracts more than a million visitors annually.

While this ruling does not completely eliminate the possibility of an Auburn Dam, the dam's backers are certainly going to have to do a lot more work to bring the dam back from its coffin.

We here at Friends of the River certainly think that today's ruling is something to celebrate.

Steve Evans
Conservation Director

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