The sore beset people of this land may be good and goddam sick of politics, RussiaGate, and Trump-inspired social strife, but they may soon have something more down-to-earth to worry about: Biblical floods and plagues.
Media hysteria around the Mueller Report has nearly eclipsed news of historic flooding in the midwest that has already caused $3 billion in damage to farms, homes, livestock, and infrastructure. With spring rainfall already at 200 percent of normal levels, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a statement in late March saying, “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season, with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities.”
More to the point, two major western dams show disturbing signs of potential failure that may bring on unprecedented disasters. The Oroville Dam on the Feather River north of Sacramento — the highest earthen dam in the US — nearly blew out in February 2017 when record rains damaged the main spillway, threatening to send a 30-foot wall of water downstream towards California’s capital and towns along the way. When that spillway was closed to assess the damage, which was significant, the secondary emergency spillway was opened for the first time since the dam was built in 1968. It too started disintegrating and before long Lake Oroville began flowing over the top of the dam itself. The state had to order evacuation of 188,000 people in three counties. Frantic efforts to drop sandbags from helicopters stabilized the damage and, luckily, the rain stopped.
Subsequent lawsuits against the state’s Department of Water Resources revealed shoddy maintenance, theft of equipment, and poor record keeping. Now, two years later, new cracks have appeared in the repaired Oroville Dam main spillway. The Sierra Nevada snowpack stands at 153 percent above average, and the National Weather Service predicts that weak El Nino conditions with above-average Pacific Ocean temperatures are likely to produce above-average rainfall this spring along with the snowpack melt.
The Fort Peck Dam on the upper Missouri River in Montana is likewise troubling experts watching a record snowpack in the Rocky Mountains. It too is an earthen dam — the world’s largest by volume — filled with hydraulic slurry. Because it is located on the flat high plains, the dam is extremely long, running 21,000 feet — about four miles — from end to end. Behind it is a reservoir that is the fifth-largest man-made lake in the nation.
Concern is rising because the coming snow melt coincides with seismic activity around the Yellowstone Caldera, one of the world’s super-volcanos. The slurry construction of the dam inclines it to liquification when the ground shakes. Failure of the Fort Peck dam would send the equivalent of a whole year’s flow of the Missouri River downstream in one release that could potentially wash away the other five downstream dams in the Missouri River Mainstem Reservoir System, along with every bridge from Montana to St. Louis, an unimaginable amount of farm and town infrastructure, and several nuclear power installations. It would be the greatest national disaster in US history. Just sayin’.
A shy, science-nerd correspondent writes: “Epidemiologists speculate that a flooding event in Central Asia steppes triggered the 1347 Eurasian plague outbreak. Rumors of a mass human die-off in India reached Europe in the mid-1340’s. The Mongols besieging the coastal city of Trebizond on the shore of the Black Sea catapulted plague infested corpses over the city walls and Italian merchant ships fleeing Trebizond carried the infestation to Genoa which foolishly permitted the dying crew to land…. Rodents hosting plague spreading fleas typically inhabit arid grassland regions such as the Great Plains of America and the semi deserts of California and New Mexico. The current flooding of the American Mid-West and the mass dumping of flood tainted wheat, corn and soybeans will likely spark a rodent population explosion in the region, which in the context of rat-swarming homeless encampments may yield a 1347 repeat event in North America during the 2020s. What happened before can happen again.”
The homeless camps around Los Angeles have turned up cases of other medieval-type diseases typical of human settlements before public sanitation became a standard feature of civilized life: Many are spread through feces (as well as drug use): Hepatitis A, Typhus, shigellosis (or trench fever, spread through body lice), and tuberculosis. Gawd knows what is coming across the border into America’s proudly leading “sanctuary state.” Wait for it. Just sayin’.