Ezra Klein at JuiceVox raises a good point:
The Oroville Dam in northern California is the tallest dam in the United States, rising 770 feet high. It holds back a reservoir containing 1.17 trillion gallons of water, storing supplies for farms and cities across the state. It’s a vital piece of infrastructure.
But now the aging dam has become a serious threat.
On Sunday, authorities ordered some 188,000 people around Oroville to evacuate their homes over concerns that the dam’s emergency spillway could fail and an onrush of water out of the reservoir could flood nearby towns and roads. While there is no sign that the dam itself will collapse, the situation was dangerous enough that Gov. Jerry Brown ordered an emergency response. And, while things had stabilized somewhat by Monday, the crisis isn’t over yet — and it’s a good reason to pay more attention to the shoddy shape of America’s dam infrastructure.
The Oroville Dam was built in the 1960s, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that it’s experiencing wear and tear. Indeed, back in 2005, a handful of environmental groups warned that the dam failed to meet modern safety standards for severe flooding. They urged federal officials to mandate concrete fortifications along the auxiliary spillway as part of the relicensing process for the dam’s hydroelectric plant.
But as the Sacramento Bee reports, both federal and state officials dismissed this request — arguing that a disaster like we’re seeing now was too “rare” to be worth worrying about. (Some reports suggested that state and local agencies didn’t want to incur the extra costs for upgrades, though they’ve pushed back against this.)
Expect this to become an increasingly common dilemma around the country. As Jenny Rowland explains in this issue brief for the Center for American Progress, many of America’s dams are aging past their designated lifespan and will require costly upgrades in the years to come:
“With their increasing age and cost, the current state of dam infrastructure is poor,” Rowland writes. “Crumbling dams not only pose a safety risk to the communities that surround them—they also pose significant risks to U.S. rivers and wildlife.” And while the federal government tends to be relatively diligent about maintaining the dams it owns, the vast majority of dams around the country are either operated by states or private interests, where upkeep tends to be patchier. (California, which owns the Oroville Dam, is much better about dam inspections than most states.)
Rowland’s report recommends a series of steps for upgrading this infrastructure, from removing obsolete and unnecessary dams to creating a federal Safe Dams Fund for needed repairs. Congress took an early step last year by passing a water-infrastructure bill authorizing FEMA to establish a grant program to identify and rehabilitate “high hazard” dams that would be especially dangerous if they failed (about 17 percent of the nation’s 87,000 dams fall in this category). But there’s more to be done.
It’s not just our dam infrastructure that is falling apart, it’s all of our damn infrastructure – roads, bridges, schools, the whole enchilada. Which begs the question – where did all the money go?
Remember the Obama Stimulus?
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) (Pub.L. 111–5), commonly referred to as The Stimulus or The Recovery Act, was a stimulus package enacted by the 111th United States Congress in February 2009 and signed into law on February 17, 2009, by President Barack Obama.
Obama told us that his Stimulus would revive the economy by dumping hundreds of billions of dollars into “shovel-ready” infrastructure repairs. So why is our damn infrastructure still falling apart?
It turns out that the Obama Stimulus was the Mother of All Boondoggles:
Remember when Obama got his trillion-odd dollars of “stimulus money” which he and the Democrats breathlessly said we needed for “shovel ready” jobs to re-build roads and infrastructure? Please e-mail me if anything of the sort got built in your town. Nothing got built in the cities where I spend time.
Roads are bad in Atlanta. I recently drove though Buckhead with its bone-jarring potholes. Folks have to have SUVs there to survive the roads, some with potholes so big that you can bass fish in them after a good rain.
When the stimulus bill (or as lobbyists for graft-grabbing special interests called it, “The Show”) was proposed, it was made to sound urgent. Politicians said it would bring “rigor” to the economy. It turns out it also brought mortis.
So where did all that sweet stimulus money go? Of the money spent in swing state Wisconsin, 80 percent went to public sector unions – those with already locked-in jobs. In fact, right-to-work states got $266 less per person in stimulus money than heavily unionized states. Where Democrats had a vast majority of representatives, their states got $460 per person more.
When Obama signed the stimulus bill in 2009, he promised it would provide “help for those hardest hit by our economic crisis.” Clearly, it did not. The states hurt the most, the ones with more foreclosures, unemployment and bankruptcy, got less money than richer states closer to power. Washington, D.C. got the most stimulus money: $7,602 per capita.
The stimulus was a huge political slush fund with little accountability. Obama credits the passage of his stimulus bill to people having no idea how Democrats were going to spend the money.
Rich Democrat donors also got payback. The farcical “green” energy company Solyndra defaulted on more than half a billion dollars of our money, while Obama mega-donor George Kaiser finagled his interest ahead of ours. Other beneficiaries of Obama’s largesse for dubious deals include Larry Page and Sergey Brin (if you Google them you will find they founded Google) for Tesla Motors, NRG Solar owners Warren Buffet and Steve Cohen, and Siga Tech owner Ronald Pearlman. All told, more than 75 percent of stimulus grants and money for such “businesses” found their way to big Obama supporters.
Meanwhile, back here in Big Smoggy, Gov. Moonbeam is determined to spend $100 billion to build a High-Speed Rail To Nowhere. You would think that during the middle of an extended drought would be a great time to do dam repairs, but no. We didn’t repair our roads either.
BTW – There is another reason why so much of our damn infrastructure is in such bad shape – environmentalists oppose every new project, delaying work and increasing costs.