Chris Nichols of PolitiFact recently looked at a claim by Assemblyman Travis Allen that the current Oroville Dam crisis “was entirely avoidable.” Here are the comments Nichols purportedly reviewed:
“The Oroville dam failure was entirely avoidable: California passed a $7.5 Billion water bond in 2014 but Jerry Brown didn’t spend $1 on new water storage or improvements to existing infrastructure like Oroville,” Allen said in a press release on Feb. 13, 2017.
Nichols rated the claim by Allen “mostly false,” but here’s where Nichols/PolitiFact got it wrong:
First, Nichols uses the environmentalist FERC complaint to argue out of both sides of his mouth, that, on the one hand, ‘it was anticipated” and on the other, “No one could have known.” These are Nichols’ exact words: “But there’s no evidence, at this point, that state officials knew the dam’s main spillway was in jeopardy, something Allen does not point out.”
So, Riddle Me This, Batman: Nichols tries to distinguish between operating and managing without explaining how come there are PHOTOS showing obvious water seepage and repairs being made on the main spillway in 2013 at the exact point of the initial crater formation, something managing the dam entails, but operating it does not.
Just Ask An Expert: Anyone who know structural concrete construction — or anyone making a simple phone call to someone who works in large-scale concrete project construction — knows that if water is flowing or seeping under the foundation, slumping, cracking and failure are not far in the future.
Management, Not Operations: With a dam holding over 3 million acre-feet a few yards upstream, finding the source of that water seeping was a matter that should have been of great concern. It apparently wasn’t. That’s a management decision, not an operational one (operators control how much water goes down the spillway, into the hydropower plant, etc.).
It is also management’s responsibility to note that the generator outflows would be compromised in the event of the emergency spillway filling the river channel with debris from the unpaved hillside (as pointed out to FERC and DWR in the environmental complaint). Proper planning for such debris dams would be to raise the generator water outlet height or install a check dam between the dam’s base and the main spillway to prevent sediment and debris from eddying upriver to clog the generator plant outlets.
Again, that’s management’s decision to make, not operations.
Proposition 1 Water Storage Bond Funds: Nichols was also critical about Assemblyman Allen’s comment that, “Jerry Brown didn’t spend $1 on new water storage or improvements to existing infrastructure like Oroville.”
Nichols concludes that, “Allen’s additional claim that the state has yet to spend bond money on new water storage projects, ignores the fact that that money was precluded from being spent until December 2016.”
Proposition 1 Water Bond (2014) specifically excluded funds from being spent until December 2016. What Nichols ignores is that the Prop. 1 was passed two years ago and with a 5 year drought, and currently floods, there still isn’t a single project listed on the state website as appropriate for funding.
It’s over two months since Proposition 1 money COULD be spent. With all the emergencies, water needs and shovel ready projects, you would think that the state would have broken ground January 1st.
There is also $168 million left in the Burns-Porter Act authorization, for which local needs and flood control were included in its purpose. With money in hand, no one seems to be leading by setting dam safety as a priority in the state budget, along with other decaying infrastructure.
Politifact’s Conclusions Are: MOSTLY FALSE: They ignore critical facts that give an entirely different impression.
PolitiFact owes Assemblyman Travis Allen an apology, a retraction of its review and I give Chris Nichols 4 HATCHETS for his hack job on this story.