Thursday, September 24, 2009

Response to Kevin Hanley, Placer Sentinel, 9 21 09, "Save Lake Clementine"

A dam is a made-man structure which is usually built for hydroelectric power, water diversion or flood control. The Age of Dam Building may be over and the Age of Dam Removal or Retrofitting may be upon us.

What if a dam has been in existence since 1938 and was built for none of these reasons and no longer serves its original function? What if the dam needlessly interrupts the natural flow of the river and harms aquatic life? Most people would say the dam should be removed and the canyon flooded behind the dam should once again be returned to its natural state. However, the Hetch Hetchy Dam has been providing pure water for the City of San Francisco since it was built and water companies in the Bay Area are very reluctant to remove the dam even though the same amount of pure water can be supplied by other methods so the movement to restore Hetch Hetchy is very strong and may succeed in removing the dam and restoring the Hetch Hetchy Valley, said by many to be a smaller and more beautiful version of the Yosemite Valley.
But we are not talking about Hetch Hetchy. Kevin Hanley (“Saving Lake Clementine”, 9 22 09) argues for the federal government putting money, $200k for a start, into our local Lake Clementine in this time of dam removal and little monies. Hanley argues against the Army Corp of Engineers closing Lake Clementine:

“How can this be? By Beltway standards, $200,000 is “chump change.” The popular Lake Clementine had 63,277 visitors in 2008. What is wrong with the federal government?”

Perhaps nothing is wrong with the federal government. Hanley’s argument is really his opinion. There are simply not enough federal monies to do everything in this age of tax revolt. Hanley himself advocates tax cuts and is now critical of the federal government for not having the money to spend the way he wants it to. And the purpose for which the North Fork Dam was built is now long ago unneeded. It was built with private funds to store sediment and then donated to the state to bear the cost of operation and maintenance.

Wikipedia states,
“Did You Know? – Lake Clementine is used exclusively for public recreation. It resulted from the North Fork Dam completed in 1938 and built by private funds in order to collect sedimentation from upriver hydraulic mining. It was made superfluous a few years later when such operations were discontinued by state edict.”

The North Fork Dam has been superfluous since the 1940’s because hydraulic mining has been “discontinued by state edict”. The sediment which the dam was originally built to collect is still behind and dam and has changed the aquatic ecosystem by covering spawning areas for fish, raising water temperature and impeding the natural flow of the American River reducing oxidation for aquatic life. Properly release this sediment would be an environmental boon to life in the river.

Those who have read Jordan Fisher Smith’s expose of the Auburn Recreation Area Nature Noir know that law enforcement costs in this area are very high and cannot be dismissed. Closing Lake Clementine may be the first step in returning this beautiful reach of the North Fork on the American River to its natural state. Hanley writes,

“ If the federal government did not provide or pay for around-the-clock security around the recreation area, damage and vandalism will likely occur to the dam and facilities, and illegal camping
could result in human-caused catastrophic fires to ignite in the American River Canyon. This would result in large new costs to the federal government and a much lower quality of life for recreation users in Auburn and Placer County.”

“Damage and vandalism will likely occur … and a much lower quality of life for recreation users in Auburn and Placer County.”

Mr. Hanley should try to get out more.

He states, “Our federally elected and appointed officials must become much better stewards of the American River Canyon.” How is maintaining an antiquated dam that serves no useful purpose being “better stewards of the American River Canyon”?

Mr. Hanley concluded with his rallying cry,

“Ensure safe public access to public lands. Get back to the basics!” which is really a plea for the federal government to pay the cost for his recreation.

How is artificially maintaining a dam that was superannuated and non-functional from its inception a way to “Get back to basics”?

There is a season for all things and maybe Lake Clementine is no longer in season.

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