The government did it

The Oroville Dam north of Sacramento is one of a series of enormous dams built by federal and state money.

The Oroville flood of 2017 exposed the structure as poorly designed and maintained. A dirt carve-out in the side of a mountain served as the emergency spillway, but it eroded to the point of uselessness. The main spillway was also damaged.

Records show environmental groups urged the federal government 12 years ago to reinforce the emergency spillway. A formal request for repairs was filed in 2005, but the paperwork was only completed last December!

These public works structures were built with tax money because private investors wouldn’t touch them. Former California governor Pat Brown routinely lied about Oroville Dam’s cost. His son, Jerry, is repeating his father’s mistake now with his high speed rail fiasco. The dam was not even built for Northern California, but to send water to dry Southern California. No wonder Northern Californians want to secede from Sacramento.

During the Great Recession that started, more or less, in 2007, some talking heads urged President Obama to fund nationwide 1930s-style infrastructure projects like Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal did. Obama promised thousands of “shovel-ready jobs” but my neighbor’s dog created more shovel-ready jobs than he did.

The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) first noticed there was a problem with the dam’s ability to contain storms that dramatically ended California’s five-year drought. On February 8 came the first official announcement that there was “no imminent danger.” DWR released water down the damaged spillway while state fire/forestry officials frantically tried to clear debris from the eroded emergency spillway. Helicopters were dropping rocks to try to fill in the damaged spillway.

While citizens were being told a dam this size could never fail (remember the Titanic!), early on Feb. 12, California Fish and Wildlife evacuated the salmon from the Feather River Fish Hatchery.

More than five hours after the fish were rescued, the citizens emergency evacuation order was finally issued. If the dam fails, a 30 foot high wall of water resulting in a hundred foot deep lake would wipe out close to a dozen towns. If the rains keep up, the waters could still overflow, especially if snow packs suddenly melt.

The emergency evacuation disrupted the lives of almost 200,000 residents. Can you imagine the traffic jams, gas station and grocery store chaos? Lesson learned? Never wait for the official evacuation order to get out.

The 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster story in New Orleans is eerily similar to Oroville. Katrina featured the same slow federal government response to repeated requests for help to the Bush Administration, as well as the failure of federal help when it came. Bush’s lame “Heck of a Job, Brownie” comment to FEMA Director Michael Brown is a political classic. Thousands of mostly poor blacks were trapped in the flooded city as few residents had cars and local government flubbed the promised bus evacuations. In Oroville this year we see the same government denial, agonizingly slow response, and resulting human suffering.

Months after Katrina, it was determined that most of the New Orleans flooding was due to poorly constructed and maintained levees built by the Army Corps of Engineers.

The environmentalists are wrong to keep faith in the feds. The federal government is by far the greatest threat to the environment. You don’t have to quote Genesis to understand that private stewardship of the land is more beneficial to both humans and the planet than government’s iron web of subsidies, cronyism, ham-handed regulations, and outright destruction.