EDITORIAL: Putting fish over human beings at the Oroville dam

The preservation of endangered species is no doubt a noble purpose. But what happens when environmentalists and bureaucrats elevate that goal above the welfare of human beings? We might have found out in California’s recent Oroville Dam debacle.

Last month, spillway overflow at the dam caused erosion of the surrounding landscape, forcing a mandatory evacuation of nearly 200,000 people in Oroville, Marysville and other northern California communities both near and downstream from the dam and spillway.

But why did it happen?

If the spillway failed, authorities warned, uncontrolled flooding could have been unleashed on the surrounding towns. But according to a report by California Ag Today, an effort to save millions of salmon below the Oroville Dam may have prompted the potentially disastrous delay in releasing water from the dam. If the dam had burst, it would have taken a lot of agricultural irrigation water with it, which has locals asking questions.

Edward Needham, an agricultural services provider for growers throughout California, told the paper that he had spoken with a friend who was working at the refuge on the day of the evacuation. The friend told Mr. Needham he had been working down at the fish hatchery, cleaning it out and trying to save all of the salmon.

“You’re telling me that they delayed the releases on the dam to save the four million salmon that were downstream?” Mr. Needham asked his friend. “That was two days before the dam nearly failed because of all the water it was holding back.”

As Ag Today points out, Mr. Needham’s account is likely correct, as local news stations reported that upwards of 40 employees from the refuge were working to save the fish and load them into trucks to be safely hauled away.

In an effort to save salmon, California and federal officials have in recent years imposed water use restrictions that have devastated farmers and rural economies in the region. Looks like the Oroville Dam mess may, in part, have been another result of their indifference to those human consequences.

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