Dam again

There are a lot of things that need to be done in response to the catastrophe brought on by Hurricane Katrina. Building a major dam across the American River at Auburn is not one of them.

Katrina was undeniably a wakeup call for a wide variety of federal and state agencies, and for the country as a whole, and it’s only natural in the wake of such a catastrophe to want to re-examine local flood-control plans. Unfortunately, the special interests are already at work, hoping to turn the fear of a Katrina-like disaster into support for pet projects including the Auburn dam and the Peripheral Canal. These projects were rejected as bad ideas long before Katrina, and they still don’t make sense. Attempts to scare the public into supporting them with threats of a New Orleans-style flood are nothing but fear-mongering at its worst.

Representative John Doolittle, R-Roseville, who long has advocated for the Auburn Dam largely because of the development dollars it would bring to his district, wasted no time in trying to turn a tragic situation to his advantage, publishing an essay in The Sacramento Bee that claims “the Auburn dam is the only means of protecting Sacramento from the devastation we have witnessed in New Orleans.” His argument is inflammatory and blatantly false.

To assert that the dam is “the only means” of protecting Sacramento is ridiculous. The region also can be protected—and much more cheaply—by shoring up levees and by augmenting the Folsom Dam. In fact, there is already a plan in motion to spend $214 million doing just that. Besides, Doolittle’s argument ignores the fact that Sacramento needs flood control on the Sacramento River as well as the American River, and the dam would do nothing to control flooding there.

More to the point, the Auburn dam is simply a bad idea. The federal government has declared it “environmentally unacceptable,” seismologists have pointed out that it would sit dangerously on an earthquake fault, and Congress has voted down funding for the $3 billion-plus project twice. Yet Doolittle has continued to call for a dam with statements that needlessly alarm residents and place legitimate flood-control plans in jeopardy.

Recent weeks also have seen lobbyists for some of the state’s largest irrigation districts invoking the specter of New Orleans in an effort to stir up support for the Peripheral Canal, which would spend billions of taxpayer dollars to siphon off much-needed fresh water from the Delta and send it to corporate agribusiness in the south Central Valley and Southern California. That boondoggle was soundly rejected by voters in 1982, but thanks to Katrina, the idea has been resurrected, this time in the guise of a flood-control plan.

It makes sense, in the wake of Katrina, to re-examine our region’s flood preparedness. But let’s not panic. Let’s examine our needs and our options and come up with a plan that benefits everyone, not just special interests. Let’s reject the fear-mongers, the Auburn dam and the Peripheral Canal.