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Oroville Matters – More Than You Might Think

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If this morning’s news is to be believed the danger is passed for the Oroville dam.  But that is hardly the case.  As the LA Times reported late last night (for once doing its job) with rain expected Wednesday, we could very easily be back in the same hole we were in very soon.  Evacuees, all roughly 200,000 of them, remain displaced – nor is there any word when they might expect to be allowed to return home.  This is at best a respite, the potential for further disaster remains very, very high.  We have a day to breath deeply, but neither the effort nor the concern can slacken in the slightest.

Despite the coverage this is not a natural disaster – this is a man-made disaster.  It could be a failure of design, it could be a maintenance failure, or it could be a management failure (it most likely is a combination of all three) but regardless all three of those are human activities.  So with that in mind let’s look at some figures and estimates just to get our heads around how bad this actually is and how bad it could become.

First of all, what is all this costing right now?  Well, I googled it and there simply are no figures currently available  So let’s figure $150/day per evacuee.  So, 188,000 evacuees times $150 per day and we come up with a figure of….$28M/day.  We are on day three of the evacuation and already we’re in the hole almost $90M.   I would not even know how to estimate the cost of repairs or the cost of the National Guard stand-up underway, or the cost in lost water, but I think it is fair to say that as things stand right now this is a billion dollar disaster.  And it can only get worse.

The Insurance Information Institute estimates that in 2015 man-made disaster losses totaled roughly $9B.  So, as things stand today this particular man-made disaster would account for about 11% of the total losses in man-made disasters in 2015.  That is approximately the same as the sixteen aviation disasters that year combined.  And believe me when I tell you we are shooting low on the estimate scale here.

Let’s consider if the situation worsens.  Consider two scenarios. Under scenario one the spillways do not collapse but the damage is so extensive that no one can be allowed back into their homes for the foreseeable future – thus their homes are a total write off.  In scenario two the spillways do collapse thus simply destroying all the property.  Now, figure 200,000 evacuees at two per house.  So figure 100,000 houses.  The median home price in Oroville is $190,000.  Ignoring commercial and industrial property, the real estate losses alone under either of these scenarios comes in at $20B.   According to one somewhat specious source that figure would make this the third worst man-made disaster in history.  By the time we add in commercial and industrial property, the infrastructure losses, the personal property losses, costs associated with the loss of the reservoir itself and this could very easily become the worst man made disaster ever.

My point with all this hand-waving and back of the envelope estimating is to try and get people, and particularly the press, to understand that this is a major, major government fail.  It is a human tragedy in displaced lives by the hundreds of thousands, but it is also an economic nightmare not just for the displaced, but for the entire state of California.  And given California’s contributions to the national economy, and the fact that save for the bookkeeping voodoo of the governor California is flat broke and busted, this is a disaster for the nation.  It should not, but this is probably going to have to end up on the federal tab just to make sure it gets done right and the bills get paid.

This is what liberal Utopian daydreaming has gotten us.  California’s cow fart regulations are not funny anymore.  We’re building boondoggle railroads, trying to catch cow flatulence, declaring ourselves a sanctuary state, all while potentially the worst man made disaster in history percolates away less than an hour and a half drive from the state capital building.  This dam was not even on Jerry Brown’s wish list of infrastructure projects.  “Governor Moonbeam” no longer covers it – he is flat out “Governor Stoned-Out-Of-His-Mind.”  Seriously, given the scale and ignorance leading up to and in this mess it is not hard to picture Brown, all his appointees and the entire legislature sitting on a couch, playing video games, munching Cheetos, toking on a joint, (Is that still a phrase anymore?) and laughing at nothing.

I honestly do not know what is worse, the fact that the state of California has allowed itself to get into this mess or the fact that the press just keeps ignoring the mess that it is.  If this catastrophe does not wake up this state, I may have to join my host at this site in departing.

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