McClintock poised to lead in Congress for Auburn dam revival

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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The power shift in Congress has positioned U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock to take over as chairman of the House water and power subcommittee. And that will also mean he’ll be positioned to advocate for an Auburn dam. McClintock, R-Roseville, has served as ranking Republican on the subcommittee of the House Natural Resources Committee since being chosen by committee Republican ranking member Doc Hastings in July 2009. He’s made no secret before and after his initial election in 2008 to Congress that he’s a proponent of building the Auburn dam – a long-delayed project estimated to cost as much as $10 billion that his predecessor John Doolittle was unable to convince Congress to fund over his 18 years in office. McClintock said that as ranking GOP member of the water and power subcommittee, he hopes to continue as chairman with the changeover to the Republican majority in the House next month. The decision rests with the Republican House conference steering committee, he said. Auburn’s Gary Estes, who has fought the dam as a Protect American River Canyons member for 20 years, said that McClintock should be asking himself whether the dam is financial feasible. A recent federal study put the price tag for an Auburn dam at from $6 billion to $10 billion, he said. McClintock said financing the project could come through a joint powers authority that could build the dam using a federal loan and then pay it back from profits the dam would make from water and power. “Personally, I don’t think the project pencils,” Estes said. The congressman, whose district includes Auburn and the dam site adjacent to the city in the American River Canyon, said he considers his advocacy role as a long-term proposition. “There are many obstacles to overcome before even moving forward,” McClintock said. “There are numerous issues with multiple jurisdictions but I do want to use the opportunity to discuss the structure for a project. The benefits are overwhelming.” The dam discussion would tie in with McClintock’s political stance on natural resources issues. “It can be summed up in one word – abundance,” McClintock said. Until the 1970s, the federal goal was to assure the abundance of water and power from its natural resources, he said. But that was replaced with a rationing of shortages caused by an abandonment of the abundance perspective, he said. “It’s now in its fourth decade and not working very well,” McClintock said. The subcommittee on water and power has responsibilities over water resources, power generation from federal water projects and interstate water issues. Estes said one of the more significant hurdles facing McClintock and supporters like the local Auburn Dam Council would be the 2008 decision by the State Water Resources Control Board to revoke the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s water rights permit for the dam. The bureau was unable to convince the board to extend its 38-year-old permit to divert water off the north fork of the American River without new, extensive environmental studies based on modern-day policies and laws. The bureau had secured 2.2 million acre-feet of storage in 1970 but had been unable to use the permit after the dam was stalled by both budget and earthquake concerns. “It sounds as if he’s trying to resurrect a dead horse,” Estes said. -------------------------------------- Timeline: 55 years and no Auburn dam Here’s a timeline on major events in the story of the much-debated, long-delayed Auburn dam: 1955 When Folsom Reservoir comes close to overflowing, an Auburn-based group of supporters presses for a federally funded dam at Auburn. 1964 Christmas week floods fill Folsom Reservoir in two days and pose another spill threat. 1965 Congress authorizes the Auburn dam, with water storage and power generation components as well as flood control. 1968 Plans move ahead on a 700-foot-high dam with 2.5 million-acre-feet capacity. Cost is an estimated $428 million. 1972 Environmental groups sue the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation over what they say are inadequate environmental studies. 1974 Environmental documents are revised and approved. 1975 Oroville earthquake sparks seismic concerns and an Association of Engineering Geologists report stating the Auburn dam design would be unsafe in the event of a moderate earthquake. 1980 Dam shuts down construction after more than $200 million spent. 1984 Environmental groups propose National Recreation Area at dam site. 1986 Drive for dam resurrected after heavy rainstorms and study showing Sacramento flood protection lower than first thought. 1992 Bill for Auburn dam funding by U.S. Rep. John Doolittle, R-Roseville defeated by a two-to-one margin. 1996 Another Doolittle Auburn dam bill fails in Congress. 2001 Federal funding comes for tunnel closure and streambed restoration at the Auburn dam site. 2003 Agreement reached on federal project to raise Folsom dam to increase downstream flood protection, raising flood safety level in Sacramento to one catastrophic flood every 200 years. 2008 The State Water Resources Control Board revokes the Bureau of Reclamation’s 38-year-old water rights permits for the Auburn dam. 2011 U.S. Rep. Tom McClintock revives Auburn dam proposal?