The massive evacuation of the area surrounding California's Oroville Dam would not have been necessary if state officials had heeded the warnings of experts a decade ago.
But defenders of Governor Brown claim that fixing the emergency spillway now threatening to collapse and cause catastrophic flooding was never a priority and that the massive rainfall that has led to the crisis could not have been foreseen.
That may be true. But it is also a fact that the state spent billions for the $100-billion high-speed rail system, and billions more were spent on caring for illegal aliens. A tiny fraction of that spending – $200 million – could have been used to shore up the dam and avoid what could be the most serious flooding in modern California history.
In 2005, advocacy groups led by Friends of the River urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to order the state to reinforce the dam’s earthen walls with concrete, citing the erosion risk, the San Jose Mercury News reported.The agency rejected the request on the recommendation of the state Department of Water Resources and local water agencies, which would have been on the hook for improvements that could have cost as much as $100 million.Reinforcing the Oroville Dam was not included on Mr. Brown’s $100 billion wish list of projects prepared last month at the request of the National Governors Association in response to Mr. Trump’s call for $1 trillion in infrastructure improvements, CNBC reported.One project that did make the list: California high-speed rail, a pet project of Mr. Brown’s with an estimated price tag of $100 billion that has become for state Republicans a symbol of out-of-control government spending.Last month, the state’s 14 Republican members of the U.S. House sent a letter to Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao asking her to suspend federal funding for high-speed rail while her office conducts a “full and complete audit of the project and its finances.”Critics of California’s willingness to spend billions of dollars on high-speed rail and services for illegal immigrants were quick to draw parallels to the state’s failure to invest in the Oroville Dam. The cost of fixing the spillway alone is now $200 million.Charlie Kirk, founder of conservative student group Turning Point USA, fired off a meme Monday saying, “California Governor Jerry Brown spends $25 billion per year to support illegal immigrants/I wonder how much Governor Brown spent to maintain the Oroville Dam?”Others defended Mr. Brown, pointing out that the emergency spillway had never been used until this year and that the catastrophic rainstorms came as a shock, especially after five years of drought.Still others turned the crisis into an opportunity to blast Mr. Trump, saying he should repair the Oroville Dam instead of building a wall on the southern border.
Good governance depends on making good choices. Government can't fix everything all at once, but it should be able to prioritize spending to ensure the safety of residents. Instead of coddling illegal aliens, which only encouraged more illegals to cross the border and settle in California, how much more money would have been available to spend on infrastructure projects like the Oroville Dam if the state had cooperated with federal immigration authorities in trying to get a handle on the massive influx of illegals over the last several decades?
That spending billions on a high-speed rail system to nowhere is a waste of tax dollars should go without saying. How many roads, bridges, and dams could have been fixed if those billions had been devoted to realistic and pressing infrastructure problems?
Californians, like all Americans, are getting the government they deserve. They have voted the Democrats in for years and are now reaping the rewards – and paying the price – for their choices.
Any effort to get Washington to pay for emergency repairs to the Oroville Dam should be shot down by Congress immediately. The money is there – all that's needed is the political will to make the hard choices to spend it.