Plug pulled on Auburn dam vestige

American River Authority votes to disband joint-powers panel
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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Formed 36 years ago to jumpstart a stalled Auburn dam effort, the American River Authority is no more.

Members of the authority representing local-government and water interests in Placer, El Dorado and San Joaquin counties voted unanimously in favor of dissolution of the joint-powers authority.

The vote came two years after the authority board voted to strip out the Auburn dam mission from its founding documents.

Without an Auburn dam to champion — and partially pull the strings to partially fund — members took the next step and voted not to continue the authority. Without the Auburn dam as a focus, the organization would have been left with a mission statement to support local water efforts that are already being tackled in several other arenas by similar groups.

The authority has been meeting once a year for several years and making no other major decisions other than to choose a chairman and adopt a budget paying for basic expenditures revolving around the yearly meeting.

At Monday’s meeting, Placer County Water Agency Director Robert Dugan made the motion to sink the authority.

“I’ve been a proud supporter of the dam,” Dugan said. “But California is a very different place today.”

Placer County Supervisor Jennifer Montgomery said that the City of Auburn, Placer County Water Agency and Placer County have all taken positions in recent years supporting a recreation-based focus on the American River ahead of an Auburn dam.

The dam drive was effectively silenced in 2006 by a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation report estimating the dam’s cost at $12 billion. Two years later, the state rescinded the project’s water rights. The dam’s authorization by Congress in 1965 has never been rescinded but a lack of resolve by both the state and federal government on funding the project has led to a project shutdown since the late 1970s.

Efforts in the 1980s and 1990s to restart the project were also plagued by earthquake safety concerns.

The authority has provided a funding body to pay a local share of dam costs through bonds, while also setting up another sounding board to encourage the federal government to restart the project as a flood-control facility. But even that flood-control mission has become outdated, with the flood-prone Sacramento area finding other ways, including levee height increases, to take the Auburn dam out of the discussion.