With little public fanfare on September 4, 2007, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and Placer County Water Agency (PCWA) restored flowing water to the North Fork American River at the former site of the Auburn Dam. The channel opening is a key step in an ambitious plan to restore the North Fork and open the canyon to public recreation. It also represents another nail driven into the coffin of the controversial Auburn Dam.
When Auburn Dam was under construction in the early 1970s, the North Fork was blocked with a temporary dam made of dirt and gravel and the river’s flow was diverted through a tunnel. The dry river bed was then extensively reworked to create the foundation for the dam. But escalating costs, Reagan-era cost-sharing reforms, concerns about earthquake safety, and public opposition eventually sidelined the dam proposal and the temporary dam blew out in the 1986 flood. But continued use of the tunnel and a large gravel berm allowed PCWA to divert water from the river and bypass the dam site segment.
Fifteen years later, conservationists (including FOR’s formidable Ron Stork and our local allies with Protect American River Canyons) recruited then Attorney General (AG) Bill Lockyer to research whether the Bureau’s and PCWA’s continued use of the tunnel as a diversion site was in the public interest. The AG’s office concluded that the use of tunnel resulted in the river drying up at the site, which is a violation of state regulations. Under pressure from the AG, the Bureau agreed to close the tunnel, restore the river bed, and provide modest public recreation facilities. The project included construction of permanent pumps for PCWA’s water diversion.
Today, the permanent pumps are in place, the physical channel has been restored, and water now flows through the formerly dry riverbed. Where there once was a dam site, there is now river. In the next few months, the Bureau will close the tunnel and complete interim public access facilities (a river take out and parking area). Over time, the channel will naturally re-vegetate. A public ceremony to celebrate the North Fork’s restoration is planned for next spring. Because construction activities continue, daily public access will not be allowed to the river segment until at least January 2008.
For more information concerning the North Fork Restoration Project, please contact Ron Stork at (916) 442-3155, x220,