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Monday, February 13, 2017

Shovel Ready Time

The Oroville dam in California just barely avoided a major catastrophe in the last two days.  The spillway of the dam suffered damage as huge amounts of water cascaded down the slope.  Then the emergency spillway was put in use and it too suffered damage from the rain swollen waters surging down that slope.  The forecast is for more rain soon, so there could still be a disaster at the dam, but it appears that the level of the lake behind the dam is being lowered sufficiently to avoid a calamity.  This is not a casual situation.  Over 100,000 people have been evacuated from their homes downstream from the dam.  Even the city of Sacremento could be affected by a dam collapse.

How did this happen?  The question is not why there was so much rain; that was inevitable.  No, the question is how is it possible that engineers warned of impending problems with the spillways ten years ago and NOTHING was done to correct the situation.  That's right, NOTHING WAS DONE.

Designing the repair of the spillway is not a complicated engineering task.  This is especially true for the emergency spillway since it was not in use at any time in the last decade until yesterday.  This sort of needed repair is exactly the sort of job that president Obama used to call a shovel ready job.  The stimulus spending of 2009-2010 could easily have paid for the needed repairs.  The design could have been put together in a month or two and then the work could have proceeded.  It would have avoided a very dangerous and tense situation which included the possibility that tens of thousands would drown or at least be made homeless. 

So why didn't the California government or the federal government go ahead with these repairs especially after having been warned that there were growing problems with the spillways?  How could the state and federal government just ignore this mess.  It wasn't that California and the feds didn't want to do construction.  California and the USA under Obama spent enormous amounts on a portion of a high speed rail line in California; the cost to date is much more than any repair to the Oroville dam will cost.  That rail line, however, doesn't go anywhere.  It's just the middle section of a line that is being built in the low population section of the project. 

The inability of California and the federal government to focus on necessary projects and to focus instead on useless show projects should tell you all you need to know about how incompetent the government really is and about how bad the governor of California and president Obama truly were at management.

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