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Despite contrary claims by law enforcement, looting did take place during the evacuation of more than 150,000 people in the wake of the spillway failure at the Oroville Dam. As the Los Angeles Times reported, in one case looters blasted the doors of a market with a shotgun and attempted to ransack the business. In another, looters stole Purple Heart medals from Vietnam veteran Mike Pomeroy, along with gold pocket watches, pearls and “countless other items,” according to the Sacramento Bee report. The massive evacuation itself imposed enormous costs and inconvenience. Government is to blame for all of it.
As we noted, engineers have known for decades that Oroville’s backup spillway was unreliable but water districts resisted calls to armor it in concrete. Government officials also failed to install gates that would raise the dam’s elevation. This was a serious matter because if the emergency spillway fails completely, that would be the same as failure of the dam itself. That spillway remained soil and rock and as Rep. John Garamendi said, it “worked fine until it had to be used.” Rep. Doris wondered why the spillway was not made of concrete. Former Department of Water Resources boss Lester Snow was not inclined to review the record. Governor Jerry Brown claimed he was unaware of warnings about the emergency spillway but said “I’m glad we found out about it.” Evacuees would be hard pressed to find clearer statements of irresponsibility.
As Mises Institute blogger Ryan McMaken recalls, Brown’s father, governor Pat Brown, “repeatedly fabricated numbers about the dam’s true cost in order to hoodwink the voters into approving the enormously expensive project through a bond issue in 1959.” And to get it passed, “he engaged in fear-mongering,” charging that without the dam southern California would run out of water. In February of 1980 the dam was spilling 70,000 cubic feet per second at forty miles an hour. The structure was 12 years old then and can hardly be stronger as it approaches 50 in 2018. The problem, says McMaken, “is that the government officials in charge of the dam have either failed to maintain the dam properly, or they’ve been wrong about the dam’s capacity all along.” Government bosses will doubtless invoke global warming but taxpayers and evacuees alike should remember “who caused the crisis in the first place.”