Archive for the 'Blog: THE LATEST NEWS' Category

RIP for Auburn Dam? Possible, but never certain

Friday, March 20th, 2009

In a major new development–but one that by no means insures the end of an Auburn Dam–the California Water Board has revoked the water rights it granted to the US Bureau of Reclamation more than 30 years ago. The landmark decision was made on December 2, 2008. This means that even if the dam were in fact approved and constructed in the future the government would have no rights to the water stored in the resulting reservoir.

The California Water Board’s unanimous decision was based less on lack of support for the dam and more on the fact that the Federal Government has failed to use the water for so long. In effect, it was a “use it or lose it” situation.

This development does not guarantee the permanant demise of Auburn Dam, but it is clearly a significant new hurdle that dam supporters would have to address before the project could move forward again.

For the Sacramento Bee’s take on this important decision, go to their website:

Auburn Dam the Focus of Recent Congressional Panel

Monday, April 9th, 2007

April 9, 2007

The Auburn Dam has officially been resurrected from the dead. The last post I wrote warned that proponents of the dam were gaining momentum in D.C |well now they’re off and running.

David Whitney, of the Sacramento Bee, reported on Friday that a House hearing Thursday on protecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta from catastrophic levee failures turned into a mini-rally for constructing an Auburn dam on the American River.

Congressman Doolittle is using 1965 authorization for the dam as justification to go ahead with securing funding for its construction, and his influential congressional allies in the House Appropriations Committee are using every opportunity they can to promote and push the project during House deliberations.

Their main arguments in favor of the dam? That it is the only way to achieve 500 year protection for the Sacramento area, and that it would relieve pressure on downstream levees.

Heres the problem: Regardless of how many dams there are upstream releasing water into the levees during a flood, they still need to be able to handle the large amounts of controlled releases that could currently destoy them. Also, even if Auburn is upstream letting out water gradually into Folsom, Folsom will need to be able to let water out faster than its current capacity for doing so if Auburn is to have any helpful affect whatsoever.

Bottom line? Levee repairs and Folsom Modifications are needed first¦NO MATTER WHAT. So why spend money on more studies and deliberations, when there is a solid, clear need that keeps getting ignored? Lets fix the immediate, obvious problem first. THEN we can decide what added protection is desired.

As for that later debate, and 500 year protection, there are several different ways at analyzing and projecting flood risks. The 500 year number refers to a modeled probability based upon statistical extrapolation. Translation? The flow level associated with a 500 year event is a flow level that has never been seen in recorded history, but that in a mathematical model has a projected 1 in 500 chance of occuring in any given year.

The most important thing to know about this modeled probability is that the Army Corps of Engineers themselves, (the government agency responsible for creating the statistical model), admitted in their report that the model was NOT MEANT TO EXTRAPOLATE, WITH ANY ACCURACY, FLOW FREQUENCIES BEYOND THOSE WITH A 1 in 200 CHANCE OF OCCURING. Why? Because the mathematics break down beyond an interval that is more than twice the length of the available data set. And the available data set happens to only be 100 years long.

So, perhaps the Corps frequency model isn’t the best way to try and predict the maximum flood that can be reasonbly expected from the American River Watershed. (They even say so themselves!)

An alternative is to use what is referred to as the Galloway method, in which public projects are built based upon what is called the “standard project flood.” Had this analytical method been applied in New Orleans, their system of flood protection wouldn’t have come near the standard project flood requirements, and they may have then had the chance to avert disaster. Why? Because in determing the standard project flood, analysts take the local weather system and data into account, placing the worst possible storm directly above the watershed and determining what the resultant runoff would look like. New Orlean’s levee and dam system was not built to withstand a Class 4 or 5 Hurricane, even though those storms appear in the Gulf every few years! In contrast, Northern California only has one, very consistent storm to worry about: the “Pineapple Express.” [Read more about this in post titled, Katrina Disaster Unfortunately Drawing Ill-Founded Support for the Auburn Dam.]

So what’s the point of all these ramblings? Well, Auburn Dam would have several negative affects on top of drowning two incredibly valuable and beautiful river canyons. One, it would cost an incredibly large amount of money to build. Two, geologists at the USGS believe there is a lot of unresolved uncertainty surrounding the very dangerous possibility that the dam’s location along a fault system could trigger a devastating earthquake. Three, its water would be too limited and expensive to have hopes of paying off the dam any time in the near future.

With environmental and economic losses so big, is it really worth building a structure based upon a projected risk that is an unreliable estimate at best? Perhaps we should look instead to the numbers that can be trusted:

Sacramento is NOT currently protected against a 200 year event, and CAN BE with repairs to levees and Folsom Dam. Should there even be a debate as to what to do next???

Cost Study Assigns a Price Tag in Exceedence of 6 Billion Dollars

Thursday, February 1st, 2007

The long-awaited results are finally out… and Auburn Dam’s future seems even slimmer than before. Check out this post from

Last year, Doolittle decided to use (ahem…waste..ahem) 1 billion taxpayer dollars for yet another study on the proposed Auburn Dam. A dam which, if built, would drown miles of the Middle and North Forks of the American River. And for the purpose of what? Water rights that don’t exist? Power that can be achieved at a much lower cost? And of course, the supposedly needed extra flood protection which isn’t worth a darn without improvements to Folsom first anyway, and which would protect against an amount of water not likely to ever be produced by the American River. For those of us who have seen through all this faulty reasoning for some time now and have viewed the proposal as both a waste of money and a waste of two invaluable river canyons, the results of Doolittle’s cost study are sweet redemption. The dam has been estimated to cost between six and ten times the original amount that is often cited by dam supporters, ringing in at an outrageous 6 to 10 billion dollars. As a mature and fiscally responsible citizen, a fan of sensical government planning and a steward of California’s beautiful river canyons, I have only this to say about the estimates: “Naa na na naa na!” Doolittle and the Auburn Dam Authority will be hard-pressed to prove that the benefits from such a dam could ever outweigh such high costs. And he was the one to order the study in the first place! It’s beautiful really.

To read the results for yourself, download the study from the US Bureau of Reclamation:

Relevant news coverage:

1. Reviving Auburn Dam Could Cost Up To 10 Billion Dollars
– Contra Costa Times

2. Auburn Dam Price Tag Soars
– The Sacramento Bee

3. Dam Costs Skyrocket
– The Auburn Journal