The Federal Emergency Management Agency has already committed $333.4 million toward the repairs of the 2017 broken spillway of California’s state owned and operated Oroville Dam. But it’s not enough, according to California state officials.
FEMA announced this week it would pay an additional $205 million for Dam spillway repairs, in addition to $128.4 million the agency previously approved for reimbursement for emergency response and debris removal.
Yet the California Natural Resources Agency is threatening to appeal the FEMA decision because the state wants $306 million in additional reimbursements for repairs.
FEMA said the remaining $306 million in costs were not eligible for reimbursement.
In February 2017 two spillways of the 770-foot-tall dam began crumbling under very heavy rain and snowmelt, threatening to flood towns down stream along the Feather River, leaving 180,000 people only an hour’s notice to escape.
But this was no ‘Act of God’ disaster like Hurricane Katrina or the recent tornados in Alabama; this disaster was caused by inattention to maintenance and repairs by the state of California, as well as questionable design over 50 years ago.
Heavy rainfall during the 2017 California floods damaged the main spillway. The California Department of Water Resources stopped the spillway flow to assess the damage and contemplate its next steps.
Then Gov. Jerry Brown used federal security regulations intended to address terrorism to deny public access to the Oroville Dam records that experts needed for repairs to the Dam, and to provide insight into what led to the near catastrophic failure of its emergency spillway. Many said Brown really did this to prevent his father’s name from being besmirched.
“The biggest controversy came in 1964 when an Oroville newspaper published allegations that substandard materials were being used at the construction site. Then-Gov. Pat Brown (Jerry Brown’s father) called the story ‘irresponsible and erroneous,’” the Press Enterprise reported. “State officials later wrote a report that said there was no evidence that the dam ‘was designed or is being built in an unsafe manner.’”
Politicians Fiddling While CA Was Crumbling
While Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats were busy prioritizing illegal aliens, refugees, inmate sex change operations, building houses for the homeless, mandating transgender bathrooms, climate change awareness, and hiring Eric Holder to undermine the Trump administration, the Oroville Dam was crumbling. And they knew it.
In 2017, Gov. Jerry Brown’s office submitted a wish list of $100 billion of “key” infrastructure projects for investment statewide, which included raising Folsom Dam to improve flood protection. The list did not specifically list Oroville Dam, but Brown’s pet High Speed Rail project made the list, CNBC reported. “The priority list prepared by California follows calls by President Donald Trump for $1 trillion in infrastructure projects nationwide. Most of the projects on the three-page wish list involve transportation-related projects, such as highways, bridges, rail or transit.”
As the Oroville Dam spillway collapsed and water threatened to flood the homes and businesses of nearly 200,000 north state residents, the 27 water agencies, 23 million people and thousands of acres of farmland dependent on this water watched their future supply disappear.
Gov. Brown’s 2017 “Water for the 21st Century” plan on his website did not address the overarching infrastructure issues:
Ensuring safe and sufficient water supplies for the 21st century requires significant investments in our water infrastructure and natural ecosystems. After five decades of divisive wrangling, the time has arrived for the governor to provide real leadership and solve our longstanding water problems. The goal must be to maintain and enhance water supplies for all Californians and take action to restore the Bay-Delta and meet California’s true water needs.
This was code language for why Brown was pushing for the Delta Twin Tunnels project.
Ed Ring with the California Policy Center explained what was really behind the problem:
- Powerful environmentalist organizations, often receiving government funds, provide the moral cover for neglect. There isn’t a road, a bridge, a power plant, a port upgrade, new housing, a water treatment plant—not one scratch in the ground that isn’t bitterly contested by the environmentalist lobby.
- Many corporate special interests benefit from neglect. Corporations who own existing sources of supply can charge higher prices and generate higher profits. Utilities are the obvious examples of this—ever since “decoupling” legislation was passed in California, the only way utilities can generate higher profits is to raise unit costs, since unit output and profit percentages are fixed by law. So if water costs $2.00 per CCU instead of $0.25, or if electricity costs $0.50 per KWH instead of $0.05, utility companies make a killing for their shareholders.
- Public sector unions also benefit from infrastructure neglect. Taxpayer funds that ought to be paying to construct and upgrade roads and bridges end up being allocated instead to pay government workers higher salaries and fund generous pensions.
Ring added, “It is a crime against all Californians that other developed nations can build infrastructure for less than one-third what it costs here, and that other states in the U.S. can build infrastructure for less than half what it costs in California.”
“Why is it that this Governor only talks about the problems?” Sen. John Moorlach asked in an op ed. “He provides no leadership on solving them. We have the worst balance sheet of all 50 states and all I hear from him is how important it is to address global warming?”
U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, who represents the Oroville area in Congress, said the Department of Water Resources has itself to blame for FEMA’s decision, the Sacramento Bee reported.
“FEMA’s decision not to fully reimburse DWR for Oroville Dam spillway repairs should not come as a total surprise,”LaMalfa said in a prepared statement. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Independent Forensic Report have both cited insufficient maintenance and initial design flaws as playing a part in the failure of the spillway. FEMA has reimbursed the state for eligible emergency repairs, but repairs due to maintenance failures as well as the new structures being built are ineligible for federal reimbursement legally.”
State Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama), who represents Oroville said, “FEMA is reimbursing DWR to pay for the emergency repair costs that were necessary following the Oroville Dam Spillway failure,” KFBK reported. “Nielsen is placing responsibility for the loss of federal funds on state water officials. ‘Thorough and routine maintenance should have been done over the past 50 years. The new spillway construction, and that of the new emergency spillway, will likely be covered by DWR,’ he said.”