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--the California "Mega-Park" Project

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

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Saturday, December 6, 2008


State Revokes Auburn Dam Water Rights

Read the November article from the LA Times: Auburn Dam may really be dead this time.,0,2140993.story

Auburn Dam 1December 2, 2008 - The California State Water Board voted unanimously to revoke the Bureau of Reclamation’s water rights to build the Auburn dam. The Order cited California’s tough “use it or lose it” water rights policy, in which 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.

This is a great victory for millions of people who utilize this river every year. Hopefully, this action closes a chapter on the 35 year effort to build one of California’s most useless and most expensive dam projects ever conceived. Auburn dam is without purpose, without funding, and now without water.

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


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, Ron 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.

Media Contact: Ron Stork Senior Policy Advocate office: (916) 442-3155 ext 220


from PCL Insider: On Tuesday the State Water Resources Control Board revoked the water rights for the proposed Auburn Dam, putting an end to a battle for the American River Canyon that lasted three decades. The Board determined that after 37 years of inaction, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation could not demonstrate the ability to put the water rights to use. The Board further noted that the implementation of environmentally preferable alternatives for flood control and water supply rendered the massive dam redundant.
Culminating decades of advocacy to save the American River, Ron Stork from Friends of the River, Gary Estes from Protect the American River Canyons, Michael Jackson and Bill Jennings from the California Sports Fishing Protection Alliance and Jonas Minton from the Planning and Conservation League testified in support of the historic action. After hearing the final decision Jonas Minton stated, "It took decades, but today good science and sound, cost-effective alternatives prevailed to preserve the American River Canyon for generations to come. This is a win for all Californians. We now must apply the same rational thinking to the next round of proposed expensive, environmentally damaging dams."
PCL will be applying lessons learned on persistence, determination and success from the Auburn Dam debate to the on-going push to fund ill-conceived, environmentally damaging dams. We'll continue to encourage state decision makers to carefully examine how more cost-effective solutions such as conservation, water recycling, groundwater cleanup, and floodplain management can substitute for new taxpayer-subsidized dams. Hopefully, this time we won't need thirty years of debate to make the right decision.

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