What's Next for the Auburn Dam?

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, December 8, 2008

**NOTE: This updated version of the story ran Monday on All Things Considered. It clarifies details in the Morning Edition version on the next step for the American River water.

Let’s start with the state water board’s action last week, as explained by spokesman Bill Rukeyser.
Rukeyser: “Because the Auburn Dam was not built and it did not meet deadlines set back in the 1960’s, the state water board decided that the proposed builders of the dam no longer had the water rights that were granted to them really before most Californians were even born.” 
Now, as for what comes next, it’s actually a two-part question: the dam and the water.  And the dam part is pretty simple.  As Rukeyser points out: 
Rukeyser: “We did not decide whether the Auburn Dam would be built or not.  We did not decide if it was a good idea or not.”
So the dam’s structure still belongs to its landowner, an obscure federal agency called the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.  It’s basically in a holding pattern right now, with permission from Congress to build the dam but no more water rights.  And a spokeswoman says don’t expect any construction – or demolition – anytime soon.
As for the water, Rukeyser says it’s pretty much up for grabs – on a first-come, first-serve basis, though the process takes years.
Rukeyser: “If there’s water or if somebody claims there’s water, they can apply for a water right.  Just because somebody applies for something does not guarantee they’ll actually get it.” 
Meanwhile, the jurisdictions that would have benefited from the Auburn Dam’s completion are stuck without a long-term water solution.  Dr. Mel Lytle with San Joaquin County says that county is pursuing a backup plan with some other American River water.
Lytle: “We’re currently looking at ways to best use that here to supply to agriculture as well as to the cities and communities that are here in the county.” 
So what’s next for the Auburn Dam?  After more than 40 years of hurry-up-and-wait, the answer now appears to be … nothing new anytime soon.