Jerry Brown’s Legacy?

One take is outlined in this article from New Geography.

An excerpt.

The cracks in the 50-year-old Oroville Dam, and the massive spillage and massive evacuations that followed, shed light on the true legacy of Jerry Brown. The governor, most recently in Newsweek, has cast himself as both the Subcomandante Zero of the anti-Trump resistance and savior of the planet. But when Brown finally departs Sacramento next year, he will be leaving behind a state that is in danger of falling apart both physically and socially.

Jerry Brown’s California suffers the nation’s highest housing prices, largest percentage of people in or near poverty of any state and an exodus of middle-income, middle-aged people. Job growth is increasingly concentrated in low-wage sectors. By contrast, Brown’s father, Pat, notes his biographer, Ethan Rarick, helped make the 20th century “The California Century,” with our state providing “the template of American life.” There was then an “American Dream” across the nation, but here we called it the “California Dream.” His son is driving a stake through the heart of that very California Dream.

California crumbling

Nothing so illustrates the gap between the two Browns than infrastructure spending. Oroville Dam’s delayed maintenance, coupled with a lack of major new water storage facilities to serve a growing population, reflects a pattern of neglect. Just this year alone, the massive water losses at Oroville Dam and other storage overflows have almost certainly offset a significant portion of the hard-won drought water savings achieved by our state’s cities. A sensible state policy would have stored more water from before the drought, and would now be maximizing the current bounty.

Once a national and global leader in infrastructure, according to a report last year by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, California now spends the least percentage of its state budget on infrastructure of any state. In the critical Sacramento-San Francisco Delta, an ancient levee and dike system is decaying, and ever more stringent environmental regulations limit key state and federal water facility operations. To be sure, Brown has supported a “water fix” — a dual tunnel through the Delta — to address some of these problems, but his efforts have only produced a mountain of paper, rather than real-world improvements. In terms of preparing for the future, California’s current penchant for endless studies and environmental hand-wringing is fostering pre-Katrina Louisiana conditions, rather than the forward-looking capital investments previously the state’s hallmark.

Posted in Government

Not Enough Storage

This article from the Wall Street Journal makes the case.

An excerpt.

MORGAN HILL, Calif.—Two years ago, Uvas Reservoir here stood at just 2% of capacity—much of its lake bed baking in a merciless drought.

But now the half-square-mile reservoir is spilling over, sending so much water downstream that a recreational-vehicle park a few miles away in the brush-covered hills has closed because of the threat of its lone bridge being flooded out.

“It’s hard to complain about getting the water we need so desperately, but I wish we could just get it spread out more,” said Matt Gifford, a 30-year-old manager at a retail store, who was fishing at the lake on Wednesday. His nearby home is threatened by flooding from another reservoir.

With more rains having drenched the state over the past several days, California’s overburdened dam system faced a new stress test after a near disaster at Lake Oroville earlier this month raised questions about the health of the state’s extensive network of reservoirs.

State officials on Feb. 12 warned of an impending collapse of an emergency spillway at Oroville as they attempted to lower the lake’s level following weeks of rain and snow.

The situation has since stabilized as nearly 200,000 evacuated residents were allowed to return to their homes and crews helped fortify an eroded area of the spillway.

But new flooding concerns surfaced, including at California’s largest reservoir, Lake Shasta, which on Feb. 12 began releasing water from its spillway for the first time since 2011.

With water shooting out of the release valve, the swollen Sacramento River downstream experienced flooding, including of a golf driving range, a sheriff’s office parking lot and some riverfront homes.

Officials of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the 47-square-mile lake, said they have to make room for more rain and snow this winter to avoid wider flooding.

“The flooding would be so much worse if our facility wasn’t there,” said Sheri Harral, a bureau spokeswoman at the lake, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains.

Further south along the Sierra Nevada, dam releases from Don Pedro Reservoir prompted the Turlock Irrigation District on Thursday to warn farmers and ranchers to move property and livestock to higher ground as the Tuolumne River threatened to surge out of its banks with the approaching storms.

Widespread flooding unrelated to dams has been reported in the state from the fresh round of storms. In Southern California, at least two people died in floodwaters and dozens of others were temporarily trapped in their vehicles, while in Northern California, residents of the small farming town of Maxwell were evacuated because of high waters.

The flooding is happening as a devastating, nearly six-year drought has finally ended in much of California. However, the semiarid state is never far from drought, and because of limited storage facilities is unable to recover much of the water being spilled when reservoirs like Uvas reach 100% capacity.

Proposed new reservoirs to capture storm runoff have been blocked by environmental groups and other opponents for decades, in a situation that frustrates water managers.

This year “is a textbook example of why we need more storage in California,” said Timothy Quinn, executive director of the Association of California Water Agencies.

Posted in Shasta Auburn Dam, Water

Flooded Parkway

If climate prognosticators are correct, we are in for a lot more of the same as reported in this story from the Sacramento Bee, so it might be wise—to keep the Parkway in usable shape year round—to build Auburn Dam.

An excerpt from the Bee article.

With the popular American River Parkway mostly underwater, local residents accustomed to exercising along the waterway will have to find alternate routes for the second straight weekend.

The next major downpour is expected to hit the region Monday, giving people who don’t mind cloudy skies and a light drizzle a chance to get outside before the next downpour.

Amy Rihel, training coordinator for Fleet Feet Sports, said it’s been challenging for runners accustomed to using the parkway to find places to get in their miles.

“We’ve been in this pickle in the last couple of weeks on where to take our groups,” Rihel said. “Land Park has been kind of a lifeline.”

Depending on the desired distance, McKinley Park and Land Park can be big enough to avoid boredom while running loops this Presidents Day weekend, she said, though some of the dirt paths are muddy. The paved trail around North Natomas Regional Park is approximately 2.5 miles, so “even if you’re doing long distance, it doesn’t get too crazy like you’re going in circles all the time,” she said.

Rihel recommended the greenbelt in the Pocket neighborhood, the Clarksburg Branch Pedestrian and Bike Trail in West Sacramento and the Sacramento River Parkway. The last one is not as maintained as the American River Parkway, but it’s paved and “you can get some decent mileage on that,” she said.

For people willing to drive, Rihel suggested heading out to the Auburn and Folsom Lake state recreation areas.

In Auburn, Supervising Park Ranger Scott Liske said rangers are contending with erosion and downed trees on some trails, but the most popular routes are open. The Lake Clementine and Stagecoach Trails offer some dramatic water views.

“One of the unique parts of the Auburn State Recreation Area is the confluence” of the north fork and middle fork of the American River, Liske said. “This time of year, with water on everyone’s mind, you can really see the power of the rivers when the two join up there.”

At Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, trails are open for running, biking and walking.

Farther downstream, Lake Natoma was closed to boaters when flows from Folsom Dam passed 30,000 cubic feet per second.

Brian Dulgar, director of the Sacramento State Aquatic Center at the southwest end of the lake, said the prolonged closure is causing problems for hundreds of rowers who regularly work out on the lake. He has taken teams and equipment up to Folsom Lake to practice, but debris in the water makes it difficult to find smooth spots to train.

“Everything is just coming down from the mountains,” he said.

Posted in Shasta Auburn Dam

Victor Davis Hanson on Oroville Dam

As a follow up to yesterday’s post on failed leadership around water policy, I present this article from the Los Angeles Times.

An excerpt.

A year ago, politicians and experts were predicting a near-permanent statewide drought, a “new normal” desert climate. The most vivid example of how wrong they were is that California’s majestic Oroville Dam is currently in danger of spillway failure in a season of record snow and rainfall. That could spell catastrophe for thousands who live below it and for the state of California at large that depends on its stored water.

The poor condition of the dam is almost too good a metaphor for the condition of the state as a whole; its possible failure is a reflection of California’s civic decline.

Oroville Dam, along with Shasta Dam, is the crown jewel of California’s state and federal system of water transfers. Finished nearly 50 years ago, the earthen Oroville Dam is the tallest dam in the United States. The resulting Lake Oroville stores 3.5 million acre feet of snow and rain runoff, and is central to transferring water, eventually via the California Aqueduct, from the wet north to the dry southern half of the state.

The dam was part of the larger work of a brilliant earlier generation of California planners and lawmakers. Given that two-thirds of the state wished to live where one third of the rain and snow fell, they foresaw a vast system of water storage and transference that would remake the face of a growing California by putting people, industry and farms where water was not.

State lawmakers spend their time obsessing over minutia: a prohibition against free grocery bags and rules against disturbing bobcats.

The 19th and 20th century dams have saved thousands of lives and billions of dollars of property from perennial spring flooding. The dam at Oroville helps to control the flows of the Feather, Yuba, and, ultimately, the Sacramento rivers, allowing millions of Californians in these former flood basins to live without fear of deluges. Many Californians have come of age taking dams like Oroville for granted, assuming that flooding was something of ancient family lore — and that the manmade storage reservoirs surrounding their growing cities were “natural” lakes.

The water projects created cheap and clean hydroelectric power. (At one point, California enjoyed one of the least expensive electric delivery systems in the United States.) In addition, dams like Oroville ensured that empty desert acreage on California’s dry west side of the Central Valley could be irrigated. The result was the rise of the richest farming belt in the world. Complex transfers of water also helped fuel spectacular growth in the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin. Their present populations often do not fully appreciate that their dry hillsides and Mediterranean climates could never have supported such urban growth without the can-do vision of a prior generation of hydrological engineers.

Finally, besides, flood control, hydroelectric power and irrigation, California dams created over 1,300 reservoirs that presently provide the state with unmatched mountain recreational and sporting opportunities — often for the poor and middle classes who cannot afford to visit expensive coastal tourist retreats.

Yet the California Water Project and federal Central Valley Project have been comatose for a half-century — despite the recent drought. Environmental lawsuits and redirection of critical state funding stalled final-phase construction, scheduled expansion and maintenance. Necessary improvements to Oroville Dam, like reinforced concrete spillways, were never finished. Nor were planned auxiliary dams on nearby rivers built to relieve the pressure on Oroville.

A new generation of Californians — without much memory of floods or what unirrigated California was like before its aqueducts — had the luxury to envision the state’s existing water projects in a radically new light: as environmental errors. To partially correct these mistakes some proposed diverting storage water for fish restoration and  re-creating of wild rivers to flow uninterrupted into San Francisco Bay.

Posted in Government, Shasta Auburn Dam, Water

Leadership Failure

It has been known for some time that public leadership in California has failed in maintaining the necessary water infrastructure needed for a growing population, and this article in the Sacramento Bee affirms that.

An excerpt.

After six years of drought and a few months of flooding, California’s decades-long political commitment to ideology of being either for the environment or against progress has endangered the state’s water supply system and is threatening public safety, environmental health and economic stability.

Rather than upgrade California’s water collection and delivery systems, for 50 years state bureaucrats, political appointees and many elected officials focused their priorities on an onslaught of environmental standards, regulations, projects and programs committed to their rose-colored-glasses vision of California.

They created a false choice for all elected officials, every “wanna-be” officeholder, career bureaucrat, water manager, scientist and engineer, advocacy group, community leader, and even California voters: either you are for the environment or you are against California.

Once again Mother Nature has shown that these choices cannot be either-or decisions. Both options – all options – are important. Six years of devastating drought and a quarter year of record rain are no match for California’s political game masters.

For Oroville Dam, our state’s latest costly mishap, 188,000 Butte, Yuba and Sutter county residents were forced from their homes and businesses as dam operators worked desperately to prevent the collapse of an emergency spillway that failed spectacularly the first time it was used.

Since 2000, California has passed eight water bonds, but not a single dollar went to replacing the Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway with concrete rather than soil – a defect so serious that three environmental groups demanded its repair in 2005, during the dam’s relicensing process by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A curt memo from the California Department of Water Resources dismissed the threat, the Wall Street Journal said.

Whether it’s decrepit, broken pipes spilling precious water in Los Angeles, eroding a spillway in Oroville, a population with needs that double in size each decade or environmental protection programs requiring 50 percent of the water we capture and store, we have known the water infrastructure challenges we face for 50 years. But our choices to address them have been limited, restricted and removed from the table; not by science, not by engineering, not by opportunity, but by pure politics.

Posted in Government, Shasta Auburn Dam, Water

Why Did Oroville Spillway Collapse?

Mercury News provides a possible answer.

An excerpt.

How did a giant, gaping hole tear through the massive Oroville Dam’s main concrete spillway last week, setting in motion the chain of events that could have led to one of America’s deadliest dam failures?

Dam experts around the country are focusing on a leading suspect: Tiny bubbles.

The prospect is simple, yet terrifying and has been the culprit in a number of near disasters at dams across the globe since engineers discovered it about 50 years ago. In a process called “cavitation,” water flowing fast and in large volumes can rumble over small cracks, bumps or other imperfections in concrete dam spillways as they release water during wet years. The billions of gallons of water bumping off the surface at 50 miles an hour create enormous turbulence that can form tiny water vapor bubbles that collapse with powerful force, and like jackhammers, chisel apart concrete.

“It starts with small holes, but it can break off big chunks of concrete,” said Paul Tullis, a professor emeritus of civil engineering at Utah State University and cavitation expert.

“It’s like a big grinder. It causes concrete to be torn apart.”

It’s still too early to investigate the cavity on the spillway while dam operators at the nation’s tallest dam desperately drain billions of gallons of water down the damaged chute ahead of coming storms.

But the same phenomenon nearly caused the collapse of one of America’s other largest dams, Glen Canyon, a 710-foot tall behemoth on the Colorado River, in 1983.

Heavy snowmelt and rains that winter flooded the Colorado River basin, filling the 185-mile-long Lake Powell to the brim. Glen Canyon Dam — completed in 1966, just two years before the 770-foot Oroville Dam went into operation — opened its two spillways for the first time ever to lower the lake levels.

On June 6, 1983, rumbling sounds could be heard from the left spillway — which is a tunnel, different than Oroville’s 3,000-foot long concrete chute — and the dam began to shake violently. Bureau of Reclamation engineers shut off the spillway and found a series of five holes being torn into the rocks on the dam’s side.

Posted in Shasta Auburn Dam

Homeless in Parkway is the Accepted Norm

That is not news to Woodlake and other neighborhoods who have been bearing the brunt of illegal camping by the homeless in the Parkway for years and it is the clear conclusion of this article—watch the video interview—from KCRA 3 News; and one major reason public leadership has refused for decades to effectively deal with Parkway illegal camping.

An excerpt.

For nearly two weeks, dozens of homeless people, their pets and belongings have occupied a levee at Interstate 5 and Garden Highway after flooding forced them out of Discovery Park.

The men and women, tents, tarps, bicycles, cooking utensils and dogs cram together beneath the interstate as cars and trucks drive overhead, dropping brake dust and other litter.

It’s not where the homeless want to be, but it’s where they have to be while Discovery Park is closed.

“We’re forced out of our normal bathroom facilities,” said David Toney, who now calls the levee home. “We don’t have access to clean water, you know, on a regular, daily basis. And we’ve been under here for a while.”

Safety, Toney said, is not an issue.

It’s the lack of privacy and lack of access that has him and other members of the community calling on the city and other official entities to come up with a solution.

“It would seem like the authorities could look at this as a sort of an emergency and make some kind of contingencies for relief on some of this stuff,” he said.

The city and county provide emergency shelters and beds, as do other private entities, but temporary solutions to many in Toney’s community aren’t enticing.

The homeless risk losing the few possessions they have, including their pets.

Then, Toney explained, there’s the issue of embracing a lifestyle many haven’t experienced in years.

“If you lived out here for 10 years, being inside of an apartment building is going to be a new experience to you,” he said. “It’s going to be anxiety. You’re not going to be around your friends.”

Sacramento City Council member Jeff Harris echoes that sentiment. He said pushing someone into housing doesn’t simply work because you want it to work.

“It really doesn’t work that well to take someone off the street, as you said, whose acclimated to a life outdoors, move them into a housing situation and expect it to work,” he explained.


Posted in Homelessness