By Doni Hubbard
If you are one of the hundreds who stood up for Englebright Dam when Cal Fed first listed dam removal as an option for improving fish habitat, please remain standing. Englebright foes are much too happy these days. Read SYRCL and American River press releases and newsletters, and you see that the latest $100,000 appropriated to study Englebright fish passage is their vision of the “first step” in taking down Englebright.
SYRCL on Facebook (May 17, 2011): The best action that could be taken to restore wild salmon back to the upper Yuba River would be a mandate for fish passage at Englebright Dam. The Army Corps owns the dam and therefore is the entity most responsible…the Army Corps must initiate a feasibility study, the first step towards removal of Englebright Dam. An American Rivers press release (May 17, 2011) referred to “outdated” Englebright and was euphoric over the “confluence of Federal processes and scientific consensus directed at the Corps dams.” Again on May 17 (Union Democrat) quotes American River spokesman Steve Rothert after his organization had just named the Yuba River as one of the nation’s most endangered rivers: Naming the Yuba one of the nation’s most endangered rivers is intended to highlight the need to remove Englebright Dam.
So here we go again, another study, another $100,000. Perhaps you recall that the original amount of the study directed at Englebright in 1999 was $191,000. This quickly escalated in the hands of Cal-Fed to a $6.7 million study. As reported 11/5/03 in the Marysville Appeal Democrat, the “Upper Yuba River Studies” project next received an additional $2.3 million for a total of $9 million. After the millions spent so far, the $100,000 allotted this time (for a court mandated study in the hands of the Army Corps) sounds like a bargain. These are your taxpayer dollars, by the way.
Tom Borden who participated in the original Upper Yuba River Studies Workgroup and active in the grass roots organization CAALED (Citizens Allied Against Lake Englebright Destruction) has followed this issue for years. Asked about the latest study which includes assessment of the fish ladder at Daguerre dam and the possibility of a fish ladder at much larger Englebright he responded:
“A fish ladder was one of our hopes when they first started talking about taking down the dam. It was rejected outright at Cal-Fed meetings, millions of dollars ago. I’ve been to many meetings and when we’d bring up the possibility of a fish ladder we were told by the experts that they are not a solution for Englebright because fish ladders aren’t viable when the dam is over 100 feet. Englebright is still 280’ high so what has changed?”
Tom recalls that “since the 1950s, studies related to Bullard’s Bar, Lake Oroville, Folsom Dam, (and the two that didn’t get built--Parks Bar and Auburn Dam), have all shown Englebright Dam as an example of how spawning areas below the dam are healthy for the fish. There have been numerous studies since then and thousands of dollars wasted.”
For many it’s frustrating to see Englebright and its magnificent lake environment benefitting the community with water storage, recreation, hydropower, flood control and a healthy fish population while so much money is spent with an eye on tearing it down.
Marilyn and Bill Stanford whose home overlooks the lake add another concern: “We are thankful everyday during the fire season that Englebright exists. That pool of blue water represents salvation to the wildlands and properties in our area. Besides providing a natural firebreak it is a major source of water for aerial fire suppression. It is our front yard treasure and provides beautiful scenery that feeds the soul.”
Englebright---a treasure to be preserved for man and wildlife, or a decadent structure to be removed for fish passage? Study and speculation go on, as the dollars go out. We have no guarantee that fish ladders, or even taking down the dam will bring more fish but this much we do know:
If the dam goes down, a beautiful lake and the environment that has developed around it since 1941 will be destroyed. Boating and fishing recreation enjoyed by residents, fishing clubs and visitors to the area will be gone.
The property values of homeowners and businesses in the Lake area will be further diminished. Millions of dollars that could have been spent on schools, teachers, libraries, roads, fire protection, etc. will be spent instead on consultants, lawsuits, demolition of the dam, removal of the silt, restoration, etc.
The fire protection afforded by Lake Englebright will be lost. Many recall the importance of Lake Englebright as a water source and fire break in fighting the 49er fire which swept through the area in 1988.
These are only the immediate concerns of Nevada County residents neighboring the dam. We haven’t even touched yet on the interests of the Yuba County communities below the dam and the issues of Englebright’s water storage, hydro- power and flood control affecting them.
So what can you do now as the next study goes forward? Please stay tuned to the issue. Pro-removal advocates know, as we do, that taking down the dam isn’t a “done deal.” It would be a major, protracted fight. Your informed diligence is needed. In the meantime make the most of your proximity to Englebright. Uncertainty seems to hover over Englebright Dam so take every opportunity to appreciate what we now have. Visit the lake...enjoy the boating, kayaking, the camping and the trails. Let the Army Corps know that you appreciate their management of the dam which has promoted the pristine beauty enjoyed by so many. Then decide for yourself if Englebright is “decadent” or a “treasure” while we await the results of the latest study to determine its fate.
(Note: For more information about Englebright Lake please visit