The American River Flows Free Again!

The American River near Auburn is flowing free for the first time in 40 years after local agencies closed the tunnel and rebuilt the riverbed around the Auburn Dam site. Since it is likely that the Auburn Dam will never be built (after years of controversy and $400 million dollars) government agencies have returned the river to its original bed, with a few manmade improvements paddlers will love. An architecturally designed permanent river bottom – a series of pools lined with stone embedded in concrete – will create a swirling stretch of class III rapids as long as the water is up, according to the agencies that spent $30 million to restore the riverbed. Because of the attraction, the designers also created a concrete “portage” path alongside the river where paddlers can easily portage their kayak, canoe or raft, perhaps to carry it back for another ride down the rapids.

Boaters accessing this newly opened recreation area will likely put in at the confluence and take out at Rattlesnake Bar, 6 miles downstream, flows permitting. Although the stretch does not rival the exciting class IV and V stretches on the upriver forks of the Middle and North American, this mellow stretch will be perfect for families, paddling instruction, and anyone looking for a scenic, mellow river trip. According to Bill Center, former El Dorado County Supervisor, owner of Camp Lotus, and longtime paddler, “It really does open up a sweet section of the river.”

The restoration work also included a water-pumping station on the riverbank that will serve 55,000 homes a year for the Placer County Water Agency. Builders created a chute alongside the left bank that will channel a stream into the pump station. The $30 million price tag for the entire river restoration work includes the high cost of the pumping station.

Boaters could begin using this stretch of river as early as next spring, although there are some challenges faced by Auburn State Parks and Recreation Department regarding parking. Jay Galloway, Park Superintendent, expects to hold hearings and invite public comment on the revised recreation plan sometime next spring. Stay tuned so your voice can be heard. For more information, click Friends of the River article, or Sacramento Bee article. Photo courtesy PARC.