Real Environmentalists Say "Yes" to Auburn Dam
In recent days, we have sweated through a series of Stage 2 and Stage 3 alerts. By the time this goes to press, we may have even groped our way through a blackout or two as well. The unfortunate thing is that it does not have to be like this. We have at our disposal a solution that not only will help alleviate California’s long-term electricity woes, but will also enable the Golden State to meet several other vital needs in the cleanest, most environmentally friendly way possible.
At issue is whether or not to build the Auburn Dam. To hear the extreme environmental movement describe the situation, not only would the proposed Auburn Dam not put more electricity online, it would irreparably damage all
that is good and beautiful about this part of Northern California.
The facts tell a different story, however, as they usually do when one is dealing with groups that are more interested in obstructing progress than achieving workable solutions.
In actuality, the Auburn Dam could provide up to 600 megawatts of power, enough to provide electricity for over a half million families. Even in years that are “dry,” when water supply is less than normal, we could reasonably expect to generate 230 megawatts. When you consider that the number of megawatts needed to avoid a blackout is sometimes very small, every bit of energy counts.
Opponents of the Dam blithely ignore such particulars, eager to focus the discussion exclusively upon expanding alternative energy sources. Granting the value of alternative energy, however, one still has to wonder how much concern alternative-energy-only zealots really have for the environment and the scenery that makes California the unique paradise it is. After all, anyone who has driven through the Coachella Valley or the Altamont Pass has seen the windmill farms there and knows there is hardly a more unsightly vision on earth-not to mention the fact that the whirring blades have a severe impact upon bird populations, including endangered species. Solar panels are not particularly beautiful either, nor would be the 3.6 million square feet of solar panels required to generate as much electricity as one Auburn Dam.
In contrast, the upper reaches of an Auburn Dam would provide inviting vistas and opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Unlike bird-chopping windmill farms or vast acres of reflective man-made surfaces, it would be a thing of beauty that would
encourage families to enjoy the outdoors together.
Furthermore, the Auburn Dam would also provide the security of the flood control we desperately need. The US Army Corps of Engineers in 1995 described Sacramento as having “one of the lowest levels of flood protection of any US city of its size.” Raising levees may help, but they can never deliver the uncompromising security an Auburn Dam would provide.
Finally, there is the water issue. In 1988, I argued in a Bee editorial: “The most serious unresolved need in Sacramento’s future is energy. … Shouldn’t we be planning new sources of clean, inexpensive hydroelectric power for our future?” While we are now all too aware of the validity of this warning from over a decade ago, I believe a similar and equally vital warning must be issued today: The most serious unresolved need in California’s future is water!
The Association of California Water Agencies estimates that our state will be chronically short of water by 2010. When this time comes-or before, if we have a drought-California’s businesses, farmers, ordinary citizens, and environmentalists with be locked in a vicious struggle for an insufficient resource; most likely, all will come out losers. In contrast, an Auburn Dam
will provide generously for human water needs as well as those of fish, the Delta wetlands, and endangered species.
In light of these critical needs, we simply can no longer allow ourselves to be bullied around by extremist groups that oppose common sense progress at all costs, no matter how environmentally friendly it may be. We can have clean energy, adequate flood protection, and stave off our impending water crisis, and we can do this in a remarkably clean, environmentally friendly
We can have all of these things, but we cannot have them without the Auburn Dam.
– Tim Leslie is Assemblyman of California’s 4th Assembly District, which runs from Roseville over the Sierra to Mammoth Lakes in the south and Lake Tahoe in the north.
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