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Auburn Dam Proponents Gaining Momentum in DC

March 17th, 2006 Robyn Suddeth

As a result of increased Folsom Dam costs and recent flood fears ignited by Hurricane Katrina, congressional supporters of an Auburn Dam have recently been successful in obtaining funding and powerful allies on Capitol Hill that lend momentum to a renewed fight for Auburn Dam’s construction. As a result, the dam has once again become a real possibility, and those of us who recognize its faults (literally and figuratively) need to start making some serious efforts to fight back…

At this point in time last year, most people had accepted that Auburn Dam was a dead idea. The tunnel diverting the American River away from the orginal damsite was finally scheduled to be re-filled as of 2007, and the Placer County Water Agency began construction on a pumping facility designed to extract water from the river’s natural channel. Moreover, Sacramento had obtained 200 million dollars in Federal funding for much-needed Folsom Dam improvements and levee repairs for the purpose of flood control.

But then two things happened.

First, it turns out that the 200 million dollars appropriated by Congress for Folsom Dam improvements falls short by an order of about 400 million dollars for the originally proposed project. Although new (and cheaper) alternatives have since been studied and proposed, this rise in relative expected costs caused Auburn Dam proponents, such as District Five County Supervisor Bill Kranz, to question whether the Auburn Dam should be brought back on the table as an alternative. (The Auburn Dam would still cost at least three times as much.)

Second, Hurricane Katrina hit and devastated the city of New Orleans, igniting fears in Sacramento-area residents that they may fall victim to the same fate. Especially troubling to people was the fact that New Orleans had a higher modeled “level of protection” than does Sacramento. (Level of Protection refers to the amount of water a system can control, in relation to a modeled probability that that particular amount of water ever actually occur. For instance, 200 year protection means that a system can supposedly control flows up to those that have an estimated 1 in 200 chance of occuring in any given year.)

Although these numbers are highly subjective in that they are extrapolated from a mathematical model, and thus dependent on the assumptions and parameters used by the statisticians who created that model, this fact is hardly ever noted and/or questioned. The harsh and tragic reality of New Orleans’ experience resonates much more powerfully than does a statistical debate. [See earlier posts for detailed explanations.]

This convergence of events (rising costs at Folsom and New Orleans Levee failures) gave Auburn dam proponents in DC an opportunity they couldn’t ignore. The first significant step taken to revive momentum towards construction of the dam was Representative Doolittle’s insertion of a 1 million dollar dam feasibility study into a November Appropriations Bill. Even more troubling, however, are efforts towards gaining congressional support and potential yes votes from influential representatives. Specifically, Rep. David Hobson from Ohio has recently stated that he is convinced “that a flood control dam at Auburn is vital”. Hobson is an especially troubling adversary in that he is currently chairman of the House Appropriations Committee’s energy and water subcommittee that funds projects like the Auburn Dam. [David Whitney, Sacramento Bee: Doolittle, Auburn Dam win key ally]

There have been local developments as well. The Auburn Dam Authority (formerly Auburn Dam Council) has recently mobilized, giving several radio interviews and submitting an increasing number of op ed pieces in to local newspapers. They are calling these recent efforts an educational campaign, but it is hardly the bias-free type of education that one might desire concerning the this issue’s huge implications.

With all these developments that are happening, it is surprising how many people still think that the Auburn Dam is a dead issue. This blog was written today with the intention of simply getting the word out that the Auburn Dam is once again a very alive debate, and right now only one side is making itself heard. If the American River’s canyons are to remain protected, it is important that opponents of the dam start getting their opinions and information out there as well.Â

Whatever your beliefs are concerning the Auburn Dam, however, now is the time to be paying attention. With new allies in appropriations and increased public support, funding for the project is closer than its been in quite a while.

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