USA Today has a fascinating update on the situation in Oroville.
Many may remember, heavy rains in Northern California brought the eponymous dam to peak capacity and when that happens, a spillway was built is to drain off the excess water.
But, as Rachel Maddow reported almost two weeks ago, that spillway has come under threat since engineers discovered a giant hole in the structure. As one can imagine the severe drought and relentless sunny days may have caused hairline cracks that compromised the integrity of the spillway.
When engineers tried to use the “emergency” spillway, which meant pouring tons of water down the side of the hill, the hill began to degrade so rapidly the fear was that the it would affect the integrity of the dam itself. So water had to once again pour down the spillway until a solution could be found.
Last week 200,000 residents were evacuated as a precautionary measure. Fast forward to today, where the situation now appears to be under control:
Dam managers say they’re making good progress on repairing the damage caused when the reservoir overtopped its emergency spillway, scouring away trees, dirt and boulders. Managers had feared the emergency spillway could collapse, sending a wall of water downstream. That threat has eased, and workers are now shoring up the spillway and removing debris from below the dam.
What is fascinating, however, is the extent to which politics and fake news is playing. After all, one would think the situation would bring the state, which has fewer Republicans than Democrats, together.
According to a report from USA Today, as soon as you enter the city, the divide can be clearly seen:
One of the first signs heading into Oroville, population 16,000, urges residents to support seceding from California to create a new state of Jefferson. Here in inland California, Gov. Jerry Brown’s name evokes disgust, and President Donald Trump is seen as the one who really cares. Here, residents distrust a state government they think is all-too-eager to help undocumented immigrants and build a bullet train to serve the rich coastal elites, leaving them with little.
And the current situation with the dam is being blamed on liberals. The theory goes, if the dam which was (presumably) built by government liberals (even though conservative hero Ronald Regan was governor at the time) was built properly the first time, Oroville would not be in the situation it’s in today.
And it is true environmental groups had warned the spillway needed repair and that it could “erode during heavy winter rains and cause of catastrophe”. The situation in Oroville has opened an old wound. Many inland conservatives believe too much money and attention goes to the liberal, democratic areas of the California. So much so the needs of the hard working conservatives in the state are being ignored.
That distrust has led to fake news:
…video showing a National Guard soldier giving out wrong information about the state of the dam and evacuation began ricocheting around social media hours after the evacuation order was lifted. What he said contradicted the official line from dam managers, and the public seemed ready to accept his version over theirs, especially as some Californians already believed dam managers had covered up the extent of repair work conducted in 2009.
…social media has been filled with rampant rumors and speculation that government officials were misstating the risk for some political gain, and there’s skepticism bordering on paranoia that the “real story” isn’t being told by the media or the government.
But natural disasters also have a way of bringing enemies together. Although an outspoken critic of President Trump (and he of California and its “sanctuary cities”), Governor Brown put in a FEMA request for government aid which was quickly approved sending hundreds of millions in aid to the state.
The people of Oroville see this as President Trump looking out for them.
… the fact that no Trump-Brown feud materialized is an example of the new president’s munificence. But they’re also well aware that things could have gone very differently here. “It’s very frustrating,” says 23-year police officer and Oroville resident Jeff Wiles, as he watched the emergency repair work with his son. “It just irritates you.”
Wiles says he looks forward to retirement in a few years, so he can move his family, maybe to Idaho, to be among fellow conservatives. He’s tired, he says, of living in a state so split between Democrats and Republicans.
“You tell the president, ‘we don’t want anything to do with you,’ and then you ask for help?” Wiles says. “At least he’s not holding a grudge. I wouldn’t blame him if he did.”