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Oroville Dam: Honestly, what do we expect?

POSTED February 14, 2017 8:50 p.m.

Want to see California’s future?
Pull yourself away from this morning’s update on the Oroville Dam debacle. Get in your car and go west. As you ascend the Altamont Pass on Interstate 580 make sure your seat belt is buckled tight so the jarring from the road surface doesn’t throw you through the window.
On your way back take note of the ACE train inching along at 25 mph on the 19th century track alignment. As you get closer to Tracy you’ll cross the California Aqueduct that is slowly — and unevenly — sinking as it heads south through the San Joaquin Valley. Take the Mountain House Parkway and head into the Delta. Take a gander at the aging 160-year-old levees where maintenance has been hindered by environmental laws.
Governor Jerry Brown is presiding over the house that his father, the late Gov. Edmund G. Brown, built — freeways, water conveyances and dams — as well as elements that his great-great- grandfather’s generation put in place such as levees and train tracks that now carry commuter passengers.
So what does the man who is lambasted for being too fiscally conservative by his own party when it comes to the state’s general fund do when making major expenditures? Does he invest it in the house’s existing and essentially aging plumbing and electrical systems to keep it from failing as well as make sure the “beater” car in the driveway the household uses day in and day out keeps running? Or does he splurge money on a sports car that can go 220 mph, as well as play in the dirt boring a couple of expensive tunnels that whoever follows him in office won’t bother to invest the money for the upkeep on them either?
There will be a lot of finger pointing in the days to come about Oroville Dam. With any luck, this winter and subsequent snow melt will happen with Oroville Dam only being a near disaster and nothing more.
Many are already pointing to the 2005 motion filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission when Oroville Dam’s hydroelectric generators were up for relicensing. The Sierra Club, Friends of the River and South Yuba Citizens League back then contended the emergency spillway was a disaster waiting to happen should literally the perfect storm occur as it has this winter. Their argument was the emergency spillway should be covered with concrete instead of being left as bare earth.
While that wasn’t in FERC’s purview, one would have thought the state and federal agencies that are responsible for the dam’s operations would have taken notice.
But here’s the awful truth: They didn’t because we keep electing people who want to do “sexy” stuff instead of worrying about things such as can we keep flushing our toilets, making sure the water keeps coming out of our taps, the roads in place don’t deteriorate and everything else we take for granted is up and running.
They can always find money for studies, but when it comes to the true basics of why we have government — providing services such as water, sewer, roads and such that we can’t do as individuals — they instead divert the money to expanding entitlements or else they buy new toys.
 If the justification to spend $18 billion or so on the Twin Tunnels is because the levees were built with 19th century technology and knowledge, not to mention the best available soil source which was unstable to begin with, might fail if an undiscovered fault line delivered a 7.0 Richter Scale temblor right under them, wouldn’t you still have to rebuild the levees?
Then there is the issue of the sinking California Aqueduct.
When you consider the condition of travel corridors that the bulk of the state’s population uses day in and day out compared to the rosy projections of ridership on the high speed rail, we will spend astronomically more to move folks who can afford the $125 ticket to travel one way from Los Angeles to San Francisco than the masses. But then again high speed rail might come in handy to evacuate the San Joaquin Valley if the state and federal government decide to run dams in the central and southern Sierra into the ground.
Let’s be clear on one thing: Infrastructure has a set life. If moving water can wear down mountains, asphalt is an easy target for Mother Nature.
If you’re remodeling your home, common sense dictates you take care of structure, safety and functionality issues first such as a new roof if it is needed and replacing aging electrical panels before you splurge on upgrades.
Not Sacramento. They need to build monuments to their egos or make their legacy “sexy.”
In a way, we get what we deserve. We keep demanding more and more from government and want to pay less and less.
Plus how many of us would vote for someone who vowed to focus on mundane re-investments in existing infrastructure while eschewing hot button issues du jour and not promising you tunnels in every Delta or a space age train?
We want freebies and we want the dream.
What we don’t want to do is pay for it or elect people who will get government back to basics before it bankrupts us and everything crumbles around us. We need to maintain what we have in place before it fails and we have to pay the price of clean-up as well as rebuilding it from scratch.

 

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