Public Safety

Public Safety Justifications for an Auburn Dam are Unreliable and One-Sided

Proponents of the Auburn Dam cite public safety, or more specifically flood control, as the main reason for the dam’s necessity.

There is inconsistency in this reasoning

It ignores advise by the National Research Council that existing flood frequency numbers are too conservative, speculative and quite possibly unrealistic (read more), while at the same time ignoring warnings from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) that estimates for the probability and magnitude of a large earthquake being induced by an Auburn Dam are not conservative enough, insufficiently researched, and irresponsible (read more).

The probability that a dam in Auburn causes a catastrophic earthquake may be equal to or greater than the true probability that the American River ever produces flows high enough for the dam to have been necessary!

(The statistics on either side of the public safety argument are “a wash.”)

And, if the dam were to fail due to stresses associated with an earthquake, we would have a tragedy far exceeding the potential floods we now face.


The Bureau of Reclamation’s approach to flood control is unrealistic and overly conservative.

Their approach to a very real earthquake threat is disregarding and irresponsible.

How much faith can we put in a proposition that uses completely opposite approaches depending on the question being asked? Not very much.

There Is No Good Reason To Build A Dam in Auburn:

When designing publicly-funded facilities meant to safeguard against natural disaster events such as flooding and earthquakes, much care is taken to ensure that they are able to withstand not merely an event that was previously recorded at its location, but also the largest magnitude event that might ever occur. This is done because one (reasonably) wouldn’t want to spend a lot of money and time building something that may have been good enough to hold up in the last event, but that in ten or twenty years might get destroyed by a larger, as yet unseen, event.

It follows that much of the decision-making process in deciding whether or not tax-funded protection should exist, and how strong or large it should be, involves quite a bit of assumption, scientific hypothesizing, and finally, uncertainty.

In deciding whether or not to go forward with a project like the Auburn Dam, the question then becomes: Whose reasoning and assumptions are most consistent, reliable, and persuasive?

On these three counts, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Public Safety argument in favor of the Auburn Dam is consistent only in that it fails miserably.

They cite numbers that have been described both by the Army Corps of Engineers and the National Research Council as speculative and quite possibly unrealistic in order to justify a certain level of necessary flood protection.

Then they turn around and ignore pleas from the United States Geological Survey to take the potential threat and size of a reservoir-induced earthquake much more seriously.

Let’s see: using overly conservative, unrealistic numbers on one side of the argument, then using the least conservative and riskiest numbers available on the other. This inconsistency should cause one to think that perhaps a solid reasoning and philosophy is lacking, replaced instead by a determination to add yet another grand dam to California’s waterways.