Politics & Government

California board kills dam Congress approved 43 years ago

The long-lived federal Auburn dam proposal is officially dead.

The California state water board drove the last nail into the coffin Tuesday, unanimously revoking the water rights it dedicated to the American River project nearly 40 years ago.

"This is a death certificate," board spokesman William Rukeyser said following the 5-0 vote.

Under California's use-it-or-lose-it water laws, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation had to put its rights to American River water to "beneficial use," as it had proposed with a 690-foot-high dam and a 68-mile canal to San Joaquin County.

But the bureau halted construction more than 30 years ago because of safety concerns following a 5.7-magnitude earthquake 50 miles north of Auburn. Environmental concerns and ballooning costs have delayed the project ever since, leaving the river's deep north fork canyon heavily scarred but not blocked.

The State Water Resources Control Board has rarely taken back water rights. It did so Tuesday only after 37 years had passed with no dam construction in sight.

The dam proposal surfaced in President Harry Truman's administration, won congressional authorization in 1965, was redesigned after the 1975 quake and slowly petered out as cost estimates skyrocketed and the values of an unimpeded north fork of the American River rose.

Read the full story at sacbee.com.