How Much California Water Bond Money is for Storage?    

Drought water cropsCalifornians have approved two water bonds in recent years, with another facing voters this November. In 2014 voters approved Prop. 1, allocating $7.1 billion for water projects. This June, voters approved Prop. 68, allocating another $4 billion for water projects. And this November, voters are being asked to approve Prop. 3, allocating another $8.9 billion for water projects. This totals $20 billion in just four years. But how much of that $20 billion is to be invested in water infrastructure and water storage?

Summaries of how these funds are spent, or will be spent, can be found on Ballotpedia for Prop. 1, 2014, Prop. 68, 2018 (June), and the upcoming Prop. 3, 2018 (November). Reviewing the line items for each of these bonds and compiling them into five categories is necessarily subjective. There are several line items that don’t fit into a single category. But overall, the following chart offers a useful view of where the money has gone, or where it is proposed to go. To review the assumptions made, the Excel worksheet used to compile this data can be downloaded here. The five categories are (1) Habitat Restoration, (2) Water Infrastructure, (3) Park Maintenance, (4) Reservoir Storage, and (5) Other Supply/Storage.

California Water Bonds, 2014-2018  –  Use of Funds
($=millions)

The Case for More Water Storage

It isn’t hard to endorse the projects funded by these water bonds. If you review the line items, there is a case for all of them. This November, voters will have a chance to approve $200 million to restore Salton Sea habitat, a sum that joins the $200 million of Salton Sea habitat restoration approved by voters in June 2018 in Prop. 68. This November, voters will have a chance to approve $150 million to turn the Los Angeles River back into a river, instead of the concrete culvert that was completely paved over between 1938 and 1960.

Who would be against projects like this? But Californians are heavy water consumers in a relatively arid state. Habitat restoration and park maintenance spending must be balanced against spending for water infrastructure. And conservation mandates must be balanced with investments in infrastructure that increase the overall supply of water. Here’s how Californians are currently managing their water:

Total Water Supply and Usage in California

As can be seen on the above table, residential water consumption represents less than 6% of California’s total water diversions. Indoor water consumption, only about half of that. Yet conservation measures imposed on California’s households are somehow expected to enable more water to be returned to the environment. Even with farmers, where conservation measures have the potential to yield far more savings, putting more irrigated land into agricultural production easily offsets those savings.

Not only does conservation fail to return sufficient water to the environment for habitat maintenance, but there is a downside in terms of system resiliency. During the last drought, when households were asked to reduce water consumption by 20%, it wasn’t an impossible request to fulfill. But as these reductions in consumption become permanent, far less flexibility remains.

California’s climate has always endured periods of drought, sometimes lasting several years. Meanwhile, the population continues to increase, farming production continues to rise, and we have higher expectations than ever in terms of maintaining and restoring healthy ecosystems throughout the state. We cannot merely conserve water. We need to also increase supplies of water. Ideally, by several million acre feet per year.

How Much California Water Bond Money is for Surface Storage?

Prop. 1, approved by voters in 2014, was called the “Water Quality, Supply, and Infrastructure Improvement Act of 2014.” It was marketed as necessary to increase water storage in order to protect Californians against droughts, and was overwhelmingly approved by over 67% of voters. But only about one-third of the money actually went to water storage, and it took nearly four years before any of those funds were allocated to specific storage projects. It was only this month, July 2018, that the California Water Commission awarded grants under their “Water Storage Investment Program.”

A review of these grants indicates that only two of them allocate funds to construct large new reservoirs. The proposed Temperance Flat Reservoir will add 1.2 million acre feet of storage. Situated south of the delta, it will be constructed on the San Joaquin River above a much smaller existing dam. It is estimated to cost $2.7 billion, and the California Water Commission awarded $171 million, only about 6% of the total required funds.

The proposed Sites Reservoir is situated north of the delta, west of the Sacramento river. It is an offstream reservoir, meaning that it will be filled using excess storm runoff pumped out of the Sacramento river during the rainy season. It is designed to store up to 1.8 million acre feet of water and is estimated to cost $5.2 billion to construct. The California Water Commission awarded $816 million, a large sum, but only about 16% of the total required funds.

Two other surface storage projects were approved, expansion of the existing Los Vaqueros and Pacheco reservoirs. Both of these reservoirs serve water consumers in the San Francisco Bay Area, both are supplied water via the California Aqueduct, and both expansion projects are estimated to cost not quite a billion dollars – $795 million for Los Vaqueros and $969 million for Pacheco. The California water commission awarded Los Vaqueros $459 million, and they awarded Pacheco $484 million.

When you consider surface storage, the total capacity of a reservoir is a critical variable, but in many ways more significant is the annual “yield.” This is the amount of water that on average, over decades, the reservoir is planned to deliver to water consumers in normal years. While the Los Vaqueros and Pacheco reservoir expansions combined will add roughly 250,000 acre feet of storage capacity, most of this added capacity is to save for drought years. Los Vaqueros may actually yield up to 35,000 acre feet per year in normal years; Pacheco may yield around 20,000 acre feet per year in normal years.

With respect to annual yields, the case for the much larger Sites and Temperance Flat reservoirs becomes more compelling. The Temperance Flat Reservoir is projected to yield 250,000 acre feet of water in normal years, the Sites Reservoir, a massive 500,000 acre feet. To put this in perspective, 750,000 acre feet represents 20% of ALL residential water consumption in California, or, put another way, each year these reservoirs will yield a quantity of water equivalent to 100% of the reductions achieved via conservation measures imposed on California’s residents during the drought. But will they ever get built?

According to spokespersons for the Sites and Temperance Flats projects, some federal funding is expected, but most of the funding will be from agricultural and urban water districts who will purchase the water (as well as the right to store surplus water in the new reservoir) as soon as its available. The projects still require congressional approval, and then will face a multi-year gauntlet of permit processes and the inevitable litigation. If all goes well, however, both of them could be built and delivering water by 2030.

How Else is Water Bond Money Being Used to Increase Water Supply?

All three of the recent water bonds had some money allocated to invest in water supply. Prop. 1 in 2014, in addition to investing $1.9 billion in surface water storage, allocated $1.4 billion to other projects intended to increase water supply. The projects they approved are either intended to store water in underground aquifers, or fund advanced water treatment and recycling technologies which have the practical effect of increasing water supply. While it isn’t clear from these groundwater storage proposals how much water they would then release in normal years, it appears that cumulatively the projects intend to eventually store as much as 1.0 million acre feet in underground aquifers.

At a combined cost total cost of under one billion, the aquifer storage projects just approved appear to be more cost effective than surface storage. It is also a critical priority to recharge California’s aquifers which have been drawn down significantly over the past several years, especially during the recent drought.

Prop. 68, the “Parks, Environment, and Water Bond” passed earlier this year, while mostly allocating its $4.0 billion to other projects, did allocate $290 million to “groundwater investments, including groundwater recharge with surface water, stormwater, and recycled water and projects to prevent contamination of groundwater sources of drinking water.”

The upcoming Prop. 3, the $8.9 billion “Water Infrastructure and Watershed Conservation Bond Initiative” that will appear on the November 2018 ballot, invests another $350 million to maintain existing, mostly small urban reservoirs, along with $200 million to complete repairs on the Oroville Dam. Prop. 3 also includes $1.6 billion to otherwise increase water storage and supply, including $400 million for wastewater recycling and $400 million for desalination of brackish groundwater.

It is important to emphasize again that all of the funds allocated in these three water bonds are paying for what are arguably worthwhile, if not critical projects. $6.3 billion for habitat restoration, $6.2 billion for water infrastructure, $1.6 billion to maintain our parks. But despite the worth of these other projects, Californians urgently need to increase their annual supply of water to ensure ecosystem health, irrigate crops, and supply urban consumers. And to address that need, out of $20 billion in water bonds passed or proposed between 2014 and this November, only $5.8 billion, less than one-third, is being used to increase water supplies.

What Other Ways Could Water Bond Money Be Used to Increase Water Supply?

Clearly the most important region to increase water supply is Southern California. Two thirds of all Californians live south of the Sacramento River Delta, while most of the rain falls on in Northern California. One way to increase California’s supply of fresh water is to build desalination plants. This technology is already in widespread use throughout the world, deployed at massive scale in Singapore, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and elsewhere. One of the newest plants worldwide, the Sorek plant in Israel, cost $500 million to build and desalinates 120,000 acre feet of water per year.

Theoretically – because capital costs in California are far higher than in most of the rest of the developed world – desalination offers a cost-effective solution to water scarcity. Uniquely, desalination creates new water, not dependent on rainfall, not requiring storage for drought years, not requiring redirecting of water from other uses. Imagine if Californians invested in desalination plants along the entire Southern California Coast. Eight desalination plants the same size as the Sorek plant would cost $4.0 billion to build if constructed for the same cost as the one in Israel cost. They could desalinate 1.0 million acre feet per year.

The energy costs for desalination have come down in recent years. Modern plants, using 16″ diameter reverse osmosis filtration tubes, only require 5 kWh per cubic meter of desalinated water. This means it would only require a 700 megawatt power plant to provide sufficient energy to desalinate 1.0 million acre feet per year. Currently it takes about 300 megawatts for the Edmonston Pumping Plant to lift one million acre feet of water from the California aqueduct 1,926 ft (587 m) over the Tehachapi Mountains into the Los Angeles basin. And that’s just the biggest lift, the California aqueduct uses several pumping stations to transport water from north to south. So the net energy costs to desalinate water on location vs transporting it hundreds of miles are not that far apart.

The entire net urban water consumption on California’s “South Coast” (this includes all of Los Angeles and Orange County – over 13 million people) is 3.5 million acre feet. It is conceivable that desalination plants producing 1.0 million acre feet of new water each year, combined with comprehensive sewage reuse and natural runoff harvesting could render the most populous region in California water independent.

Why is Infrastructure so Expensive in California?

The Carlsbad desalination plant in San Diego cost $925 million to build, and it has a capacity of 56,000 acre feet per year. That is a capital cost per acre foot of annual yield of $16,500. How is it that the Sorek desalination plant in Israel cost $500 million to build and has a capacity of 120,000 acre feet per year – a capital cost per acre foot of annual yield of only $4,100? Why did it cost four times as much to build the Carlsbad desalination plant?

This is the prevailing question when evaluating infrastructure investment in California. Why does everything cost so much more? The Sites reservoir is projected to cost $5.2 billion. An off-stream reservoir of equal size, the San Luis Reservoir, was constructed in California in the 1960s at a total cost, in 2018 dollars, of $2.3 billion. That all-in cost includes not just the dam, but also includes pumping stations, the forebay, the intertie to the California Aqueduct, and conveyances to get some of the water over the Diablo Range into the Santa Clara Valley. All of these costs (in today’s dollars) for the San Luis Reservoir, compared to the proposed Sites Reservoir, cost less than half as much. Why?

It’s easy to become enthusiastic about virtually any project that will increase our resiliency to disasters and droughts, improve our quality of life, steward our ecosystems, and hopefully create abundance of vital resources such as water. But when considering the need for these various projects, it is equally important to ask why they cost so much more here in California, and to explore ways to bring costs back down to national and international norms. We could do so much more with what we have to spend.

Edward Ring co-founded the California Policy Center and served as its first president.

California’s Water Storage Failure is Another Example of Dysfunctional Political Leadership

Lake Shasta Water ReservoirIn 2017, when cracks appeared in the Oroville Dam’s spillway, more than 180,000 Californians faced the prospect of floods. The emergency came a few years after Californians had overwhelmingly approved Proposition 1, a ballot measure to spend $7.1 billion on water-storage projects. In the drought-stricken Golden State, where runoff from rain and snowmelt races uselessly into the Pacific Ocean, the proposition won wide support, with voters approving it, two-to-one. But four years after passage, the state water commission has yet to assign a dime of funding for storage.

California once performed miracles in building infrastructure to quench the thirst of its residents and agricultural producers. In the 1960s, Governor Pat Brown oversaw construction of the San Luis Reservoir, capacity 2 million acre-feet. Approved for construction in 1963, it was completed by 1968—five years from start to finish. Those days are long gone. Any surface-storage project now faces years of litigation from environmental groups such as the powerful Sierra Club. At every stage in the construction process, delays of months or years ensue to resolve well-funded lawsuits launched under every conceivable pretext, from habitat destruction to inundation of Native American artifacts.

Nevertheless, the California Water Commission has finally announced its plans to fund new projects with the money from Proposition 1. Many Californians were surprised to learn that the proposition’s fine print stipulated that only a third of the money was ever intended to fund water storage. The rest is earmarked for other projects, ranging from habitat restoration to levee upgrades. Neither the commission nor most of the applicant agencies offer clarity as to how much additional storage the projects will add to California’s normal water supplies in an average year.

Clearly, some of the projects will make a tremendous difference to California’s parched water economy. The proposed Sites Reservoir, to be built just west of the Sacramento River, promises a capacity of nearly 2 million acre-feet; it alone could contribute a half-million acre-feet or more to the state’s water supply even in drought years, and much more in years with normal rainfall. Similarly, the Temperance Flat Reservoir will expand an existing reservoir on the San Joaquin River. Propitiously located south of the delta, this 1.3 million acre-foot construction could contribute 250,000 acre-feet or more to California’s water supply, even in drought years.

To appreciate how much capacity these two projects would add, consider that California’s total residential water consumption — indoor and outdoor combined — is only 4 million acre-feet per year. None of the other proposed projects comes close to matching these two, but in any case, it will be years before this new infrastructure can capture one drop of rain or runoff. The Sites Reservoir application anticipates completion by 2029; the Temperance Flat Reservoir, by 2033. Constant litigation, combined with years of legislation empowering unions and state agency bureaucrats to slow construction, have quadrupled the time required to build — and sent costs soaring. In 2018 dollars, Pat Brown’s San Luis Reservoir cost $672 million; the Sites Reservoir is projected to cost $5.2 billion — seven times as much, for a nearly identical facility.

To eliminate politically contrived shortages, Californians should embrace an all-of-the-above strategy to increase water supplies. They should select projects that yield the best return on investment while they take a hard look at what’s driving construction costs out of sight. Proposition 1 was a mandate to solve a solvable problem — store runoff to eliminate water scarcity. But California legislators have dragged their feet on implementation, betraying their constituents and exemplifying the state’s dysfunctional political culture. When it comes to water issues in California, not just quality of life, but life itself, is at stake.

Now $870 million, price of Oroville Dam crisis jumps by a third

Oroville Dam’s battered flood-control spillways have been largely rebuilt, but the cost of last February’s near-disaster keeps rising. On Friday, state officials put the total price tag at $870 million.

The latest figure from the California Department of Water Resources represents a 32 percent increase from DWR’s estimate in October, when the cost was pegged at approximately $660 million.

State officials insist the climbing price tag is not from unexpected cost overruns. Instead, DWR spokeswoman Erin Mellon said the agency has finally been able to estimate the cost of recovery work that includes removal of debris from the Feather River channel below the dam; relocation of power transmission lines; staff time and other work that’s been undertaken since last winter’s crisis. Those costs came to $210 million.

“So it’s not a jump in costs at all,” she said.

Of the total $870 million cost, the largest expense is the reconstruction of the dam’s two badly damaged flood-control spillways. Mellon said the reconstruction work, which is proceeding in two phases and is expected to be completed this fall, is expected to cost $500 million. That estimate hasn’t changed since last October. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Oroville to file suit against state for dam failure

The city of Oroville announced plans Tuesday to sue the state’s Department of Water Resources, alleging decades of mismanagement were to blame for the Oroville Dam’s failure in February 2017 and the emergency evacuation of 188,000 people.

The suit, which city officials intend to file in Butte County Superior Court, calls on the DWR to cover millions of dollars in economic and infrastructure losses incurred by the dam’s failure.

Raging storms in early 2017 caused a crisis at the nation’s tallest dam, which controls water delivered to 25 million people across California. The heavy rains led DWR dam operators to release flows down the Feather River, but concerns arose when a crater appeared on the main spillway. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle

Oroville Dam Spillway Cracking After $500 Million Repair

Oroville Dam 2The California Department of Water Resources acknowledged this week that many cracks have appeared in the new concrete of the Oroville Dam spillway, which cost over $500 million to repair.

The State of California is believed to have spent $100 million each month on Oroville Dam during February, March and April in a crisis effort to try to stabilize America’s tallest dam, which suffered a near collapse and forced the evacuation of 200,000 downstream residents earlier this year.

The Kiewit Corporation, which was issued a $275 million contract in April to repair both of Oroville Dam’s main and emergency spillways, poured a 1,700-foot cement top sheet and then roller-compacted and smoothed the spillway’s surfaces shortly before the November 1 contract deadline. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) inspected the work and certified the first phase of the massive repair job was completed on time.

But the Sacramento Bee reported that cracks were first detected in September “when the first phase was nearing completion.” The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which has federal oversight over the California owned dam, instructed DWR on October 2 to investigate “cracking of the erosion resistant concrete” on the repaired spillway and to recommend any further steps necessary to address infrastructure risks.

The California Division of Dams wrote a letter to FERC on November 7 to reassure regulators that “the presence of hairline cracks was anticipated and is not expected to affect the integrity of the slabs.” DWR spokeswoman Erin Mellon added, “All concrete has this result in the placement. It’s just physics of how concrete works.”

But KQED reported that Robert Bea, a professor emeritus of civil engineering and founderof the highly respected UC Berkeley Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, stated, “Cracking in high-strength reinforced concrete structures is never to be expected.” He added that when large volumes of water cascade down the spillway at speeds approaching 90 miles-per-hour, even small cracks could increase stresses on concrete.

The CCRM has issued several reports documenting that the state was aware of serious cracking in the Oroville Spillway as far back as a 1998 inspection report. DWR did try to patch some cracks and fill up visible voids. But CCRM dam experts stated that finding hollow areas is like trying to find a stud behind a wall by tapping it with a hammer.

Bea’s group is especially alarmed by green grass that has continued to grow on the dam’s abutments during the hot summer and fall. The lush green grass indicates there has been seepage through the dam face for about 50 years. CCRM does not accept DWR’s explanation that the seepage is not a risk, because it is just some “natural springs.” CCRM warns that any seepage through an earth-fill dam should be extremely worrisome.

This article was originally published by Brietbart.com/California

Multibillion-dollar water measures heading to state ballot

With a five-year drought and then a winter of floods having exposed the limits of California’s vast network of reservoirs, dams and canals, voters are likely to have the chance next year to decide whether to pay for major upgrades to the state’s waterworks.

Two multibillion-dollar bonds are expected to go before voters that promise to boost water supplies, offer flood protection and restore rivers and streams. One measure, sponsored by the Legislature, also would fund new parks and hiking trails. The second, a privately backed initiative, would go further to improve the infrastructure that moves water to cities and farms.

Regardless of whether state voters approve either measure, a handful of reservoirs will be built or expanded with billions of dollars from a previously approved water bond.

Supporters of the new initiatives say the need to upgrade the state’s water-storage system has been apparent for some time, and that with the near-failure of Oroville Dam last winter and drought-induced water shortages still fresh in voters’ minds, now is the time go to the public to fund long-term improvements. But with two measures likely to add a combined $14 billion-plus to the state’s bond debt, some skeptics say the would-be water overhaul is an overreach. …

Click here to read the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle

California orders closer look at these 93 dams after Oroville crisis

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

California officials have ordered owners of 93 dams to reinspect their flood-control spillways following the Oroville Dam crisis, saying the spillways need a closer look following a preliminary review.

The list released by the Department of Water Resources includes some of the largest dams in California, such as the New Exchequer Dam on the Merced River, New Bullards Bar on the Yuba River, and Lake Almanor Dam on the Feather River in Plumas County. Each holds back reservoirs roughly the size of Folsom Lake, which can store about 977,000 acre-feet of water.

Also on the list is New Don Pedro Dam, on the Tuolumne River, which is about twice the size of Folsom and contains the sixth largest reservoir in California.

DWR’s list also features scores of obscure facilities, including two owned along the American River by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District: Ice House and Union Valley dams.

The 93 dams represent less than 10 percent of the 1,250 dams overseen by the Department of Water Resources’ dam safety division. …

Click here to read the full article

Pothole Coast Highway: California Faces an Infrastructure Crisis

Pot hole in residential road surface

The Pacific Coast Highway stretch between Dana Point in Orange County, Calif., at the southern end, and Fort Bragg in Mendocino on the northern end, “is a bucket-list trip,” the New York Daily News enthused two years ago. “Stretching 650 curve-hugging, jaw-dropping miles along the ruggedly beautiful central coast of California, Highway 1 is one of the most scenic roads in the country.”

What the newspaper didn’t mention is that anyone winding along California roads might think that the Big One has already hit. Streets and highways across the state are in awful shape: a cracked, crumbling mess pock-marked with potholes, which tend to grow larger due to time, weather, and government negligence.

Some potholes grew so monstrous after recent heavy winter rains that California Highway Patrol officers in Oakland actually named one — “Steve.” They should have called it “Jerry,” after Governor Brown, who has done little about the state’s failing infrastructure except talk about it, while continuing to seek funding for a costly and unnecessary high-speed rail system. A bit of help for the weary motorist who’s thinking about making a justifiable claim against Caltrans for the damage it’s done to his car? Not in Brown’s California. Chapman University professor and City Journal contributing editor Joel Kotkin wrote last year in the Orange County Register that Brown’s goal “is to make congestion so terrible that people will be forced out of their cars and onto transit.”

Not all of California’s infrastructure problems can be blamed on the winter weather. In 2015, in the midst of a withering drought, the Mercury News reported that a family’s car hit a “killer pothole” near Sacramento with such force that its airbags inflated. Repairs would have cost nearly $15,000, so the insurance company wrote if off as a total loss. Though that might sound like a one-off event, California roads are indeed wrecking cars. “Deficient roads” in the Los Angeles area cost motorists an average $2,800 in annual repair costs. The state implicitly admits that its roads are a mess through a law that enables car owners who feel they’ve “lost money or property as a result of any action or inaction by Caltrans” to make five-figure claims against the agency.

The Reason Foundation, which for decades has rated road conditions across the country, ranked California roads 42nd in the nation in its 22nd Annual Highway Report. The state is 45th in rural-interstate pavement condition, 48th in urban-interstate pavement condition, and 48th in congestion in urbanized areas, the study says. “Half of the nation’s rural interstate mileage in poor condition is located in just five states,” says Reason’s Adrian Moore, and California is one of them. Media reports say that nearly 60 percent of the roads need repair. Will Kempton, a former Caltrans director, told the Los Angeles Times in February that road conditions were the worst he’d ever seen.

Roads aren’t the only infrastructure breaking down in California; its dams are no longer trustworthy. The Oroville Dam in the Sierra Nevada foothills almost failed this winter when its main spillway fell apart. It didn’t, but its near-collapse was a warning, as the New York Times reported, that the state’s “network of dams and waterways is suffering from age and stress.” The San Francisco Chronicle said a year ago that “there are 200 dams in California that are at least partially filled with mud and are approaching the end of their working lives.”

This isn’t a surprise to policymakers, who’ve been on notice for some time. According to the Association of Dam Safety Officials, California had 334 “high-hazard potential” dams in 2005; by 2015, 678 earned that designation. Officials were told in 2005 that the emergency spillway at the Oroville Dam posed a serious risk.

Also vulnerable are the state’s levees, especially those in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta network. Problems in this patchwork of largely muddy banks, built by farmers rather than civil engineers, put much of the state’s water supply at grave risk.

Rather than fix the state’s vital artery system and shore up its dams and levees, Brown and other policymakers prefer to focus on the shiny bauble of high-speed rail and a fanciful mixture of mass transit and bike lanes in an effort to move Californians out of their cars and into forms of transportation favored by Sacramento’s political bosses. Those who resist the agenda because they want to maintain the freedom facilitated by cars are likely to be hit with a new fuel-tax hike (in a state that already has some of the highest fuel taxes in the country).

More taxes, tolls, or user fees might be tolerable if the additional dollars improved the roads. But California has a history of taxing motorists to pay for pet projects that have zero connection with improved street and highway conditions. The Golden State’s existing patterns of density and sprawl have made reliance on car travel a necessity for most residents. Mass-transit advocates can wish for magical people-moving networks that will make cars obsolete, but the state’s planners need to focus on repairing the infrastructure we already have before they start implementing their dreams of a shining California future.

Why California’s Dams are Breaking

Oroville Dam 2Here’s a study you may find interesting:

Among all states, California spends the lowest percent of its budget on infrastructure, according to a report last year from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

The Golden State invested only 3.3 percent of its budget in 2013 on infrastructure, one of only three states that spent less than 4 percent. Texas, the most comparable state in size and population, spent almost twice as much at 6.4 percent.

We can easily see the result of this neglect. California’s roads and bridges are among the worst in the country, and the Oroville dam’s two spillways, when finally called upon to work in February, were quickly rendered useless, creating the potential for a devastating flood.

Incredibly, the state was warned in 2005 that the emergency spillway at Oroville was totally inadequate. Three environmental groups pointed out that because the spillway is a hill of bare dirt and not covered in concrete, that dirt would quickly erode as soon as water hit it, creating a potential lake-draining catastrophe. And that is exactly what happened, forcing officials to evacuate nearly 200,000 people downstream.

Despite the warning, the state chose to do nothing for 12 years. For that matter, the state has done little over the years to capture more water to supply the increasing population. That means a good deal of the heavy rainfall from this winter is draining into the ocean.

To his credit, Gov. Jerry Brown did admit recently that the state has not spent what it should on infrastructure and there is now $187 billion worth of unmet needs. Continued failure to invest, he said, could lead to an “apocalypse and absolute disaster.”

And to their credit, the state’s business community has long pushed for more infrastructure investment, seeing it as the foundation for a sound economy.

So now everyone agrees that something needs to be done. The only real question is how it will all be paid for. You can almost predict where this is headed: The legislature will push for some kind of tax increase. Even though the state has a record general fund budget and even though legislators have diverted money from infrastructure for years, the statehouse gang will cry that they just don’t have the money to pay for it all. Lack of money. That’s the problem, they’ll say.

Well, here’s another study you may find interesting:

Among all states, California collects the sixth-highest amount of tax money on a per capita basis, according to the Tax Policy Center, a left-leaning think tank.

In other words, the state already taxes its people and businesses heavily. Money is not the problem. Spending is the problem.

ditor and publisher of the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Is it time to abandon the Bear Flag?

Californias-state-flagThe Bear Flag, which first appeared as the symbol of the short-lived Bear Flag Republic in 1846, was made the official flag of California in 1911. The flag displays a California grizzly bear which, in a bit of irony, is extinct in California with the last sighting taking place in 1922.

Without any disrespect to what was a magnificent animal, perhaps it is time for a new emblem that more accurately reflects the current state of the state. Let’s consider the Oroville Dam as a more appropriate symbol. It’s large, not functioning well, parts are crumbling and it is putting the lives and property of thousands of Californians in jeopardy. To top it off, for over a dozen years, officials have been ignoring warnings that the now eroding emergency spillway was vulnerable to heavy rains.

Since the dam came on line in the late 1960s, and especially beginning with the first terms of Gov. Jerry Brown, California has shifted from a state that prioritized infrastructure improvement to one that focuses on entitlement programs, public employee compensation and environmental policies that stifle economic growth.

To read the entire column, please click here.