A recent poll conducted by the California State University, Sacramento, found that 46 percent of likely voters in the Sacramento region supported building the Auburn Dam to address flood and drought control, water management and housing development in the region and the state.
The real news with the latest poll results takes a bit of historical perspective, which reveals that public support for the Auburn Dam is, in fact, declining. In 1990, 59 percent of Sacramento voters approved an advisory measure in support of the dam. In 2005, an American River Authority poll found that 52 percent of people in the Sacramento region either strongly or somewhat supported the Auburn Dam. That means that support for the dam has declined 22 percent in 18 years.
None of the Auburn Dam polls have ever addressed the cost of the dam or asked local voters whether they would be willing to pay for it. If only the most recent poll had informed those surveyed that the latest government estimate to build the dam is now a staggering $10 billion, it’s probable that support would have dropped another 15-20 percentage points.
Most speculative dam projects today, including the Auburn Dam, are largely structures in search of a purpose. As the old paradigm of providing cheap water subsidized by the taxpayers lost its luster, dam proponents shifted to the need for flood control. When more level-headed people in flood prone communities like Sacramento discovered it was cheaper and more effective to improve existing facilities for flood control, the dam proponents used the energy crisis to promote Auburn Dam as an energy solution (perhaps forgetting that the local utility district looked at the dam in the 1980s and found it wanting in the electricity production department).
Now, some people who just a few months ago were questioning the reality of global warming are promoting Auburn and other new dam projects as the solution to climate-driven hydrological changes in California. However, most experts believe that the state’s existing massive system of 1,200 dams can be operated to meet our needs even with global warming. In addition, recent studies prove that large surface-storage reservoirs generate significant amounts of carbon dioxide and methane–greenhouse gases that actually contribute to global warming.
The California Water Plan found that water consumption in California is actually declining even as our population and economy grows, and will decline even further if we invest more in water conservation and recycling. In the last 40 years, we reduced our per capita water consumption in half, but we have only scratched the surface of what we can do to more effectively manage and conserve our existing water supplies. Moreover, investing in water conservation is much cheaper and more effective than building expensive and environmentally destructive new dams. Every dollar invested in conservation produces four times the water than $12 wasted on questionable dams.
So, beware of the reason du jour for building new dams like Auburn. Evidently the general public is already wary of the dam proponents’ claims, since the CSUS poll found that those who were most concerned about global warming were the least likely to support the Auburn Dam. In addition, an overwhelming majority of those polled in the Sacramento region, an astounding 86 percent, support implementation of additional water conservation measures in California.
Maybe its proof that the general public is perhaps more aware of these important policy issues than policy wonks and pundits think.