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State Water Board Revokes Bureau’s Auburn Dam Water Rights: Can’t Put Water Rights in “cold storage”

“A great victory for all who care about Central Valley fisheries.”
                                                                  Bill Jennings, CSPA Executive Director

December 2, 2008 -- Today the State Water Resources Control Board unanimously revoked the 2.5 million acre-feet of water rights the Board granted to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to build Auburn Dam some 37 years ago.  The amount of water is equivalent to two and a half times the water annually pumped from the Delta over the Tehachapi Mountains to the L.A. Basin.  The Board found that the Bureau had not applied the water to beneficial use with due diligence as required by the California Water Code. 

The CSPA team, Chris Shutes, FERC Projects Director, Bill Jennings, 
Executive Director and Mike Jackson, attorney

The Bureau’s water rights were originally granted contingent on construction of Auburn Dam being completed by 1975 and the water being put to “beneficial use” before the end of 2000.  However, after spending more than 227 million dollars on the dam, construction stopped in 1975, as costs soared and questions on whether the dam could withstand and earthquake arose.  Congress refused to authorize subsequent funding.  The Bureau requested a time extension to put the water to beneficial use.  CSPA filed a protest with the State Board based upon: 1) failure to exercise due diligence, 2) the need to reevaluate project impacts in light of legal and factual changes that had occurred since the water rights were originally granted and 3) potential impacts to water availability and water quality in the Bay-Delta Estuary.

The State Board directed the Bureau to: 1) respond to the CSPA protest, 2) provide information on when and if the project would proceed and whether funding could be secured and 3) prepare an environmental review document.  As the Bureau failed to provide the required information, the State Board could not consider the time extension request and subsequently scheduled an evidentiary hearing to consider revocation of the project’s water rights.

CSPA submitted voluminous exhibits and participated in the July 2008 hearing.  CSPA Executive Director Bill Jennings and CSPA FERC Projects Director Chris Shutes provided extensive testimony and CSPA attorney Mike Jackson addressed the legal issues and cross-examined Bureau witnesses.   After considering the evidence, the State Board, on 17 November 2008, issued a draft decision revoking the Bureau’s water rights.   Bill Jennings, Chris Shutes and Mike Jackson attended the final hearing on 2 December where the State Board voted 5 to 0, with little discussion, to revoke the water rights.  That water will now available to be used by other applicants or for use to protect the Bay-Delta ecosystem.