Sierra Club: The Planet--1996
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The Planet
Torpedo the Dams -- Full Speed Ahead!

Thanks largely to the Sierra Club, two rivers much-loved by recreationists -- the Klamath in Oregon and the American in California -- will remain free-flowing for the foreseeable future. Along with rejoicing, however, comes a salient reminder of the axiom that while destruction can be forever, protection is all too often temporary.

The Club's Oregon Chapter and other local conservationists won a key legal victory in May, when the city of Klamath Falls lost its federal-court appeal of the Upper Klamath's "wild and scenic" designation. The victory capped 13 years of activism to block the city's planned Salt Caves dam, which jeopardized what the Oregon Chapter's Liz Frenkel called "an exceptional whitewater reach of river," replete with sensitive and threatened species like the peregrine falcon and bald eagle and sacred Native American sites. "A classic Sierra Club saga of persistence," is how Frenkel described the Oregon success story. The dam's backers, she noted, spent more than $17 million, and retained lobbyists in both Washington, D.C., and Salem, the state capital. By contrast, she said, "We had volunteers -- rafters, kayakers, fishermen, Native Americans, biologists and lawyers who generously gave their time and money to keep the Upper Klamath dam-free."

The Auburn Dam saga, meanwhile, galvanized activists all across the country, who responded in numbers that surprised not only members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure panel -- which killed the billion- dollar boondoggle in committee -- but even Club leaders working to defeat the dam in Northern California.

"I'm just now finding out how much everyone was doing," said Kathy Crist, coordinator for the Mother Lode Chapter. "All over the country, at every level of the organization, everyone embraced the issue as the kind of thing the Club was founded on."

Crist especially credited the Club's recent on-line communications advances, which enabled volunteers to follow the twists and turns in legislation to bottle up two forks of the American River, a popular destination for rafters and other recreationists. The most expensive dam ever proposed in the United States, Auburn was stopped on the House floor in 1992. This time, the Club -- working in coalition with Taxpayers for Common Sense, Friends of the River, the National Wildlife Federation and others -- didn't let it get even that far. "The Club's an amazing machine," marveled Crist.

But Auburn Dam isn't dead yet. As long as the 104th Congress is in business, backers of the dam -- who have tried to sell it as a floodcontrol project -- retain a glimmer of hope. Its most dogged sponsor, Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.), had anticipated some $935 million in construction funds under the 1996 Water Resources Development Act. The Clinton administration, however, proposed just $57 million to cover noncontroversial flood-control improvements for the Sacramento area, and that version of the WRDA is now making its way through Congress.

The danger: Because the House and Senate versions are not identical, the omnibus water bill is likely to be taken up by a conference committee in September, when Auburn's backers in Congress could try to sneak it back in. "That means we need to get the message out one more time to our members of Congress," Crist said. "No Auburn Dam!"

To take action: Urge your representative and senators to work to defeat any amendment to the Water Resources Development Act to build Auburn Dam, and to vote against the WRDA should the conference committee restore funding for the project.


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