Valley Voices

Hyperbole, exaggerations and other things environmentalists tell you

Two Auburn residents above the tunnel that channeled American River water away from the proposed dam site. The American River Canyon is one of the most disturbed areas in California.
Two Auburn residents above the tunnel that channeled American River water away from the proposed dam site. The American River Canyon is one of the most disturbed areas in California. Sacramento Bee

Modesto Bee columnist Mike Dunbar deserves high fives for his columns and editorials. In his latest, which ran in the Fresno and Modesto Bees and the Merced Sun-Star, Dunbar pointed out many of the all-too-common environmentalist lies and hypocrisies about our rivers and the dams and reservoirs that provide the water that supports our economies.

In Fresno, online commenter Paul Kryder provided a classic example of enviro-fantasyland characterizations and hypocrisies in response. He went to great lengths to lambast supporters of the Auburn Dam by painting a picture of the American River Canyon as some sort of pristine, natural environment. Oh please.

I know that canyon, and that project, extremely well – far better than most.

My wife is a third-generation Auburn native. Auburn is where we met, got married; where our children were born and where we lived before I returned to college to earn an engineering degree.

We lived in a tiny apartment in a made-over Victorian just above the Auburn Dam construction site. We knew when blasting for the diversion tunnel was occurring because the house shook, the windows rattled and the living room chandelier started swinging.

Being young and of limited means, we spent a lot of our free time in the canyon. So when anyone characterizes the AR canyon as “pristine,” as Kryder did, he is straight-up wrong, using the same kind of hypocrisies described by Dunbar in characterizing the rivers of the Northern San Joaquin Valley.

The AR Canyon is one of – if not the most – heavily altered, disturbed and disrupted canyons anywhere in California. This area was ground zero of the Gold Rush, being just a few miles from the original Marshall gold discovery site at Coloma. There isn’t one square inch of the AR Canyon – nor any of its tributary creeks and ravines – that gold miners didn’t dig up, blow up, tunnel into and wash out for more than 50-plus years starting in 1848.

You can still see the signs. They built diversion dams, one of which (the North Fork Ditch Co. Diversion Dam with a tunnel) blocked all fish passage. It was long hike to get down to it, but it was a great spot for spring fishing, until it was blown up in the 1970s in the run-up to building the proposed Auburn Dam.

Historic railroads tore up the canyon while running up and down both sides, crossing the river on huge bridges – one of which remains. There ares the remains of a major quarry where my father-in-law-worked as young man. There’s Highway 49 that winds its way up and down the canyon walls, along with many paved and dirt county service roads and related bridges. Sand and gravel pits are scattered all over and there are a lot areas that “motor heads” (like me) used for Jeep sand drags, hill climbs, etc. That’s just the short list.

There’s nothing pristine, unaltered or undisturbed remaining in the AR Canyon.

But that doesn’t stop environmentalists from concocting fantasies about rivers all up and down California in an effort to sway opinions and enhance fund-raising efforts.

After working 35 years in the California water business – including on several dam, reservoir and water-supply projects – I came to realize you can’t believe any of the environmentalists’ hyperbole about our rivers, dams, reservoirs and the fisheries related to them. And you shouldn’t.

Lance Johnson of Shaver Lake is a retired water resources engineer. He wrote this for The Modesto Bee.