Editorial: Why a state as blue as California should get Trump’s infrastructure dollars
Two things ought to come to mind in California when President Trump says he plans to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure. And no, they’re not “Oroville” and “San Jose,” although those are good clues.
The first is that if the federal government is going to prioritize vast new infrastructure spending, California’s water projects should be near the top of the list. Bring it on.
Much of the Sacramento Valley was threatened last month when high water levels at the massive Oroville Dam caused torrents to flow down damaged or poorly built spillways. And the recent San Jose flooding apparently was caused not by infrastructure that failed, but by infrastructure that was insufficient to protect a rapidly expanding city from a once-a-century disaster.
Federal water spending shaped California and the rest of the West with dams, flood-control projects and other public works that allowed millions of people to inhabit a landscape that otherwise could support only a fraction of its current population. In retrospect, the idea that an area with such poorly understood (at the time) hydrological characteristics and climate patterns could be developed the same way as areas east of the Rockies seems simultaneously quaint and tragic, but it’s done. Just as the population must adapt to the land and the weather, so must the human-built infrastructure, or this dry region will not be able to sustain the people, agriculture, industry, intellect and innovation that in turn sustains so much of the rest of the country and the world.
The state once tried to go it alone but ran out of money and turned to the federal government to complete the Central Valley Project. Later projects built largely by and for Californians had federal help, and such help remains necessary if the state is to maintain and update its water storage and delivery systems to keep pace with an increasingly volatile climate.
The second thing that Trump’s $1-trillion promise ought to be telling Californians is this: Don’t hold your breath or wait by the mailbox. If the infrastructure package ever materializes, it is expected to consist largely of tax incentives for private businesses to build whatever will produce the best return — regardless of whether they would be the right projects for environmental sustainability or human health and comfort.
Californians have approved billions of dollars in bonds to meet their own urgent water infrastructure needs, and by all accounts, more will be needed in short order to protect against the kind of flooding we have seen this year and the kind of shortages we have survived in the recent past.
There is unlikely to be another federally funded Central Valley Project. The state deserves a huge chunk of any federal infrastructure funding, but slowing down its own build-out is not an option.