Remember the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic stimulus package from the early days of the Obama administration? The backers of the stimulus promised the American people that this massive government spending program would solve the country’s infrastructure problems.
Tell that to the hundreds of thousands of residents in Northern California who have had to flee their homes from the danger of “catastrophic flooding” from the nearby Oroville Dam – a structure that received no stimulus money, even though millions went to another California dam that was deemed to be in “good shape.”
Despite more than a decade of warnings about Oroville, there is no public record of the country’s tallest dam receiving any of the more than $34 billion from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act sent to California for infrastructure projects.
Over $22 million in stimulus funds did go toward safety improvements to the Folsom Dam, which was described as in “good shape” at the time the grant was awarded in 2009.
“The dam is in good shape but is starting to show its age,” a Bureau of Reclamation spokesperson said of the Folsom Dam at the time.
California officials have heard concerns about Oroville Dam for 20 years. In 1997, the dam came dangerously close to overflowing, and in 2005, in an interesting reversal of roles, environmental groups pushed for the state to replace the earthen barrier shoring up the dam’s spillway with concrete to no avail.
The state has denied any negligence of the dam, but Governor Jerry Brown has requested $162 million for cleanup and repair estimates have soared to the $200 million mark.
The governor’s office released a list of priority infrastructure projects last week which also included Folsom Dam but not Oroville Dam. At the same time, dozens of construction crews are working to repair Oroville and make sure that no more families have to evacuate.