Dam It

The preventable Oroville Dam disaster

The Oroville Dam mess is going to be a gully washer for the poor folks in the Central Valley and possibly as far south as L.A., when the agricultural and water-consumption consequences are factored in. How did we get into this situation?

The state and dam authorities were warned about maintenance issues with the Oroville Dam in 2005. One report stated that
“[t]he Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014 set aside $395 million for flood management, but to date has not allocated any of it to actual repairs or projects, raising questions about where the money currently sits and what it has been used for since 2014.”

A little more history: Gov. Jerry Brown’s father, Edmund, sold bonds for the dam to the California people in 1959 saying that the Oroville Dam could be built for $1.5 billion. It ultimately cost $3 billion—$20 billion in today’s inflated dollars. And now this is California’s part of the deteriorating U.S. infrastructure the people get stuck with.

Let us now contrast that lack of funding for crumbling infrastructure to the abundance of funding for the U.S. military. Is everyone feeling safer by spending $1 trillion–plus per year on the military? I have to ask, when America’s military budget exceeds
all other countries on the planet combined. Just asking. Here’s
a link to a visual of what $1 trillion looks like (preview hint: a stack
of $100 bills worth $1 million can fit into a paper grocery bag):

When I worked at one of the national Department of Energy labs in the 1980s (I worked at all four in the Bay Area for over 10 years), I became aware that the budget for the Department of Defense at that time was about $300 billion a year. I took out my handy-dandy calculator, and it worked out to spending $10,000 per second. And that was neglecting the budget of the DOE under which the National Labs are paid and the so-called black budgets. So I’ve had to update my calculations to the current $1 trillion–plus per year and it now works out to $30,000 per second.

As I left my musical friends last night, Lenny left me with the verse, “And who’s going to fix the goddamn dam?” Doo da.

Chris Wilder lives in Cloverdale and is a former contractor at Bay Area U.S. Department of Energy labs. He currently works as a tutor.

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