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Doolittle opposes Auburn dam water rights revocation

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Reacting to a proposed move by the state Water Resources Control Board to revoke U.S. Bureau of Reclamation water rights on the American River connected to the long-stalled Auburn dam, U.S. Rep. John Doolittle has lodged a protest with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Joined by all 18 other members of California’s Republican House delegation, Doolittle is urging Schwarzenegger to take steps to halt the proposed revocation of water rights gained by the federal government in 1971 for storage and use of water from what was envisioned to be a multipurpose dam. The state water board has scheduled a pre-hearing conference in June and a revocation hearing in July in Sacramento to take away four bureau permits allowing use of up to 2.5 million acre-feet of the river’s water. Doolittle wrote that while construction of the dam has been delayed since the late 1970s, existing water rights are “a valuable potential source of much-needed water.” “As recent conditions demonstrate, now is not the time for the State Water Resources Control Board to be using its resources to decrease potential water supply for the state,” Doolittle said. “The existing water rights for the Auburn dam would assist in our combined efforts to provide California’s residents with adequate water supply.” While Doolittle is fighting the revocation effort, the president of a local group opposed to the dam said that the water board is “simply performing its obligation to revoke the water rights for a project that has shown no meaningful movement toward completion for more than 30 years.” “Under California law, water rights may not be retained indefinitely on the speculative hope that some day the permit holder may be able to appropriate water as contemplated in the permit,” Protect American River Canyons President Tim Woodall said. While dam proponents and opponents gird for yet another round of discussion on the merits of the megaproject, the Placer County Water Agency is taking a neutral stance on revocation. The agency, however, wants to ensure that if water rights are revoked, it is on record with a request that any resulting unappropriated water be reserved as a supply for unmet local needs. Agency Strategic Affairs Director Einar Maisch said the agency does see an opportunity to possibly secure additional rights on the American River for the county and possibly others within the watershed. The agency has consistently protected its status as area-of-origin water rights holder on the American River watershed. The agency board voted Thursday to inform the water board that if revocation occurs, the water should be reserved for local water purveyors to meet current and future demands. The board voted 3-0 in favor of the motion. Auburn-area director Lowell Jarvis, an employee of the state Water Resources Control Board, abstained from voting because of a potential conflict of interest. East Placer County director Otis Wollan was absent. “Fifty years ago, PCWA was formed to protect and perfect water supplies of the American River in our county for local use,” board chairman Mike Lee said. “This board stands ready to once again do the same for future generations should any additional water become available on the river by any action of the state water board.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.