Viewpoints

Brown, California Democrats are approaching flood control all wrong

Oroville Assemblyman James Gallagher speaks to several hundred Oroville residence during a community meeting held by state officials at the Oroville Municipal Auditorium to hear residents' concerns about the dam repair on May 2.
Oroville Assemblyman James Gallagher speaks to several hundred Oroville residence during a community meeting held by state officials at the Oroville Municipal Auditorium to hear residents' concerns about the dam repair on May 2. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Monitor, patch, watch and then monitor. This is the fundamental problem with California’s failing water infrastructure.

Nearly 200,000 evacuees downstream of Oroville Dam witnessed how this failed government approach can impact their lives.

My review of inspection reports shows a pattern of monitoring, delayed action and patchwork maintenance at Oroville Dam, including painting cracks to track their growth.

This is not the first time the “monitor” strategy has endangered north state communities. In 1986, a levee failure in Yuba County destroyed nearly 3,000 buildings and killed two people. After years of litigation, the state was found liable and paid $464 million in damages to Linda and Olivehurst residents.

The Paterno v. California case held the state responsible for the integrity of the Central Valley flood control system, which includes 1,600 miles of levees that protect 500,000 people and 200,000 structures.

In this year’s storms, levees throughout the state were damaged. These critical repair sites need to be addressed before the next storm season. Considering this and the Paterno decision, you would think the state would make repairs a top priority. Think again.

Out of the $111 million this year’s budget has proposed for flood control, very little of it would be available to conduct critical repair work. What Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislators have proposed is woefully inadequate, which is why Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, and I fought to secure $100 million for immediate repair work. We cannot wait to fix critical sites, like the one in a levee protecting Yuba City and its 70,000 residents.

Sadly, Democrats on the budget conference committee voted down our funding request without discussion. I guess the plan is to monitor the damaged levees and hope they don’t fail in the next storm season.

I don’t want to be an alarmist, but this situation is a ticking time bomb.

The state has two options: We can monitor, watch, patch and then spend exponentially more after disaster strikes. Or we can identify, prioritize and repair for a fraction of the cost. For me, the choice is easy.

Unfortunately, the ruling Democratic party in Sacramento doesn’t see it that way. They’ve chosen to roll the dice and hope that the monitoring culture can get us through the next storm season.

Assemblyman James Gallagher is a Republican from Yuba City.

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