California’s Auburn Dam: The Saga Continues . . .

Posted November 19, 2008 by Malina

This is one controversy that takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin, I’ll tell you what.  After more than thirty years (!) the proposed Auburn Dam saga just got a whopping new chapter: the possibility that the State of California Water Board will revoke the water rights it granted to the Federal government back when Led Zepplin was playing to sold out concerts and Keith Richard still looked like he was made from flesh and bone, not lint, dust, and eyeliner shavings……

It’s a long and sordid tale–and provokes hard core emotions in people here in Nothern California–but the general deal is this:  The State of California gave the Feds the rights to the water that would be stored behind a dam built in the American river canyon.  After all these years, however, the dam’s supporters have failed to make any progress except for spending millions of taxpayer dollars on various studies.  Whether you like dams or not, the fact remains that the proposed dam site is located on a fault zone in a seismically unstable area.  And dams are proved to actually cause earthquakes because of the intense weight of all the water they store.  Major issues like that raise serious concerns not only for “conniving environmentalists,” as the dam’s uber-champion former US Representative John Doolittle likes to say, but for scientists, engineers, and everyday citizens as well.  When a 5.7 magnitude earthquake shook the proposed dam site back in 1975, new studies were undertaken (see millions of taxpayer dollars, above), but the issue has never been resolved.  In any case, for these and other reasons, the dam has been stalled for years, remaining a hotly contested issue–and the water rights granted to the Feds were never used.   If the Water Board revokes those rights, it means that even if the dam is built, water can’t be legally stored there.  I’m not a water specialist, but that seems like a major problem to me.

This latest development is certainly interesting, and it remains to be seen what the final verdict will be.  The water board is scheduled to make a ruling on the water rights issue on December 2nd–I’ll let you know what happens! 

PS: I took the Doolittle quote from an article I read in the LA Times. You can read it here:,0,934558.story

PPSS: If you’re feeling skeptical about the seismic activity thing check out the US Geological Survey website and read the report on how dams effect–or even create–earthquake activity.  The link I’ve given you is specific to the proposed Auburn dam.


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