New Melones Dam
Completed in 1979, the New Melones Dam on California’s Stanislaus River includes a 2.4 million acre-feet reservoir and a power-generating capacity of 283 megawatts.
The Central Valley Project facility was built to help with irrigation, flood control and power production. It replaced an older dam from the 1920s that supplied water for agriculture to two local irrigation districts.
The construction of the New Melones Dam generated considerable controversy, and galvanized the river preservation movement in California. At issue was the flooding of one of the nation’s most popular stretches of white water rapids as well as the inundation of archeological sites and the West Coast’s deepest limestone canyon.
National attention focused on the long and bitter fight, which involved court challenges, a 1974 state ballot initiative and a river rafter who chained himself to a rock to prevent the filling of New Melones Reservoir.
The struggle between environmentalists and water developers lasted from the early 1970s until the Stanislaus Canyon finally flooded in 1982 and 1983 during a high runoff year.