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Decisions about dams, like other environmental conflicts, involve complex tradeoffs between different water uses with varying human and ecological impacts, have significant impacts on public resources and involve many stakeholders with diverse and often conflicting interests. Given the many upcoming dam decisions in New England and across the United States of America, an improved understanding of public preferences about dam decisions is needed to steward resources in the public interest. This research asks (1) What does the public want to see happen with dams?, and (2) Do demographic factors influence public preferences for dam decisions? This paper analyzes data from three statewide public opinion polls conducted in New Hampshire over 2018 using univariate, bivariate and multivariate statistical analysis of public preferences for dam removal or maintaining dams for specific benefits, including property values, hydropower generation, industrial history and recreation, and evaluates the effect of age, level of formal education, gender and political party.

Our findings indicate that a majority of New Hampshire residents prefer to keep dams when they are used to generate hydropower, whereas majorities prefer instead to remove dams rather than to keep them for industrial history, recreation, or property values. Respondent demographic characteristics and political outlooks influence these preferences, in patterns broadly resembling those for many other environment-related issues. Political party, gender, and age are the strongest predictors: liberal leaning, younger, and female respondents are more likely to support dam removal. Level of formal education has no significant effect on preferences for keeping or removing dams. The results provide the first insights into statewide public preferences about dam removal in New England, support the use of public opinion polling to complement input from public meetings and guide decisions, and contribute to existing scholarship about public environmental preferences and the influence of demographic factors.

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Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene


University of California Press

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This work was supported by a National Science Foundation EPSCoR award #IIA-1539071. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

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This is a pre-print of an article published by University of California Press in Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene in 2020, available online: