Rising Water, Flood Stage, Dams, Sluice Gates and Flood Control

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 27th, 2013

Technology 101

We have spent much of our History trying to Tame the Awesome Power of Water

Water can be scary.  And very powerful.  Which helps with it being scary.  We saw what happened when that storm surge hit the East Coast.  It just swept everything in its path.  For water has mass.  Making it heavy.  Just try holding a couple of buckets of water with your arms outstretched.  You won’t be able to hold them up long.  Now think about the weight of a few billion buckets.  An amount no one could move.  But there are few things this amount of water can’t move.  Except maybe a levee.  A floodwall.  Or a dam.

Also making water scary is that you don’t know what is lurking beneath the surface.  During periods of heavy rains storm sewers quickly fill to capacity.  Water backs out onto streets.  Flooding intersections.  And basements.  Streams and rivers rise above their flood stage.  And overflow their banks.  Water saturating the soil may wash it away from underneath.  Creating large sink holes.  That from the surface may look like a puddle of water.  Water overflowing riverbanks can hide many dangers.  Submerged debris that can entangle you.  That have swift and dangerous currents flowing through them.

Rising water can get into areas where it doesn’t belong.  It got into the subway tunnels in New York.  Causing a lot of damage.  It got into the basement electrical rooms at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan.  Causing a lot of damage.  Including a partial meltdown of the reactor core.  A failed levee can flood a city.  Like New Orleans.  So untamed water can do a lot of damage.  And we have spent much of our history trying to tame the awesome power of water.

Each Spring the Snows melt and the Rains come Swelling Rivers beyond their Flood Stage

Early cities rose on rivers.  For rivers were our first highways.  The river’s current turned water wheels to power our mills and factories.  Provided irrigation for our farms.  Etc.  Rivers allowed cities to come to life.  Which is why a lot of our cities today have rivers flowing through them.  Yes, a river view is beautiful.  And the recreational opportunities are plentiful.  But they are not why we founded these cities on rivers.  It was all the benefits the river provided.  Things that allowed a civilization to grow.  But it wasn’t all good.

Each spring the snows melted.  And the rains came.  Swelling rivers beyond their flood stage.  Overflowing their banks.  Bringing great damage to life along the rivers.  Especially to the towns on its banks.  So we did something with these rivers that were prone to such damaging flooding.  And built a dam upstream.  To control that flooding.

They would choose an appropriate location upstream.  Some place where the river valley narrowed a bit.  So they could build a dam across the valley.  Once they did the water upstream of the dam rose into a lake or reservoir.  Providing a source of drinking water.  Irrigation water.  Recreation.  Or power generation with a hydroelectric dam.  Very beneficial things.  But all secondary to its main purpose.  To eliminate that recurring flooding.

A Dam’s Sluice Gates are the Key to Flood Control

If you’ve ever seen a dam on a river you probably noticed some things.  Turbulent water at the base of the dam on the downstream side.  Warning signs and some sort of a barricade (such as a chain stretched across the river held up with floats) a hundred feet or so in front of the dam on the upstream side.  Signs you would be wise to heed.  For great danger lurks beneath the surface of the water.  In that dam are underwater openings.  That have moving gates to make these openings bigger or smaller.  Sluice gates.  And you don’t want to be anywhere near these gates whenever they’re open.  For the weight of a few billion gallons of water creates a powerful force of water moving towards those gates and through the openings.  If you ever thought of diving off a small dam don’t.  You would be sucked quickly to these openings.  If they are not opened enough for your body to fit through the force of the water would hold you against the openings until you drowned.  If the opening is large enough the water will flush you through with great force and violence.  Discharging you into the turbulent water on the downstream side of the dam.

These gates are the key to flood control.  During the snowmelt runoff and heavy rains of spring we can close these gates to allow only a trickle of water flow.  Maintaining a safe river level downstream.  The excess snowmelt runoff and the rains will fill the lake or the reservoir upstream of the dam.  After the rains stop they can open the gates a little more to bring down the level of the lake or reservoir.  Without sending the river downstream above its flood stage.  If the level rises too high behind the dam the water will enter a spillway and flow over/around/through the dam.  Like an overflow in a sink.  Allowing the water to rise only to a maximum level behind the dam before spilling over/around/through the dam.  Joining that turbulent water on the downstream side.  Which you want to avoid as much as the dangers on the upstream side of the dam.

We haven’t always been successful in controlling the awesome power of water.  Some dams we’ve built have failed.  Like the Teton Dam in Idaho.  An earthen dam.  Just upstream of Wilford.  Built for flood control.  To protect the towns and farmlands downstream of the dam.  As it turned out, though, the Bureau of Reclamation did a poor job building the dam.  And the rains were heavy that year.  Raising the level behind the dam 3 feet a day instead of the designed 1 foot.  Water started leaking through the dam.  Saturating the soil making up the dam.  The water rose rapidly.  But before it could reach the spillway the dam gave way.  Sending some 80 billion gallons of water rushing downstream.  Wiping out Wilford.  And destroying most of Sugar City.  And Rexburg.  Causing damage as far away as 30 miles downstream in Idaho Falls.  Illustrating the awesome power of water.  And the price we pay when we don’t give it the proper respect.



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Disposable Income, Federal Taxes, Federal Debt and our Spending Problem 1940-2012

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 27th, 2013

History 101

Excessive Federal Taxes reduce Disposable Income which reduces New Economic Activity

The key to economic growth is disposable income.  The more disposable income people have the more economic activity they will create.  So the key to a healthy economy is maximizing disposable income.  And we can do that in a few ways.  First of all we need jobs.  And we can create more jobs with fewer costly regulations.  And lower taxes.  If we make it less costly to hire people businesses will hire more people.  Which they aren’t doing right now.  Primarily because of Obamacare.  Which is so costly to businesses that they’ve frozen new hiring.  And are pushing some full time employees to part-time.  As well as investing in capital equipment wherever they can.  Replacing people with machines.  Because machines don’t incur Obamacare costs, taxes or penalties.

For those lucky few who haven’t been replaced by machines they can earn some disposable income.  Depending on their skill level.  A low-skilled person who never graduated from high school cannot earn as much disposable income as a thoracic surgeon.  So if you want stuff.  And you want to stimulate the economy.  Become a thoracic surgeon.  Or something else that takes years of college and years of on the job training.  And hundreds of thousands of dollars of student loan debt.

But earning a good income isn’t enough.  Because from that income we must pay an enormous amount of taxes.  Greatly reducing our disposable income.  Some of the taxes we can see.  Such as those itemized on our paycheck stubs.  Federal and state income taxes.  And Social Security and Medicare taxes.  But there are a lot of taxes we don’t see.  Such as excise taxes on the things we buy from gasoline to liquor to cigarettes.  And then there are property taxes.  Sales taxes.  And the list goes on.  All of which take a bite out of our disposable income.  Siphoning away real economic activity over the years as the federal government added new taxes.  And increased the tax rates of the old taxes.

The Federal Government came up with the Withholding Tax to Prevent an all out Tax Revolt

When the Founding Fathers ratified the Constitution there weren’t many taxes.  Mostly custom duties and tariffs.  Which was enough to fund the limited government they created.  But ever since the Founding some in the federal government have been trying to destroy what the Founding Fathers created.  And replace it with what they fought so long to get rid of.  A very large government that reaches into all parts of our life.  Like a monarchy.  Where those in the federal government belong to a new aristocracy.  Who are more equal than everyone else.  And live a far, far better life.  If you don’t believe this just check out property values around Washington DC.

With the American Civil War killing a generation of fathers a lot of boys grew up with over protective and doting mothers.  When these boys came of age and entered politics they weren’t as manly as their father’s generation was.  Because they grew up without fathers to teach them to hunt and fight.  Instead, they grew up with mothers who taught them to be more nurturing.  Giving us the progressive movement.  Woodrow Wilson gave us a permanent federal income tax.  And tried to expand the federal government to be more of a monarchy with a powerful executive that can govern against the will of Congress.  And the people.  After World War I we returned to normalcy.  And Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge gave us the Roaring Twenties.  And the modern world.  Then Herbert Hoover and other progressives caused the Great Depression.  With a crisis too good to let go to waste FDR picked up where Woodrow Wilson left off.  Exploding the size and reach of the federal government.  And the great surge in federal taxes began.  Over the years they added more and more.  Such as these (see Table 2.1—RECEIPTS BY SOURCE: 1934–2017).

Income Payroll Excise and Other Taxes Key

Some of these you are no doubt familiar with.  The biggest bite is the individual income tax.  Something most of us have received our W-2s for and have just prepared our federal income tax returns.  Or are about to.  Dreading it.  Unless we’re getting a refund.  Those who owe money will probably take their sweet time.  As they hate writing a check to the federal government.  Which is why the federal government came up with the withholding tax.  For if people had to write a check for the full amount of their federal income taxes each year there would be an all out tax revolt.  And probably a lot more imprisonment for people not paying their federal taxes.  For no one has that kind of money sitting around.  Which is why the government takes it from you before you can spend it yourself.

Excessive Federal Spending requires ever Higher Taxation and ever more Borrowing to Feed

The big debate in Washington now is the sequester.  And the automatic cuts of the sequester.  Which were proposed by President Obama.  Which Congress wrote into a bill.  And the president signed into law.  In hopes that Republicans and Democrats would come together and find a way to reduce the record high deficit.  The Republicans want to do the obvious.  Cut the spending that caused the record deficit.  Democrats want to do what they always want to do.  Raise taxes.  Saying that we don’t have a spending problem.  That the four years of trillion dollar deficits isn’t because we’re spending too much.  It’s because we’re not taxing enough to pay for that spending.   That rich people aren’t paying their fair share.  But that’s not what you see when you look at the numbers.

Income Payroll Excise and Other Taxes

These taxes are identified in the above table.  As government spending grew so did taxes.  In particular personal income taxes which provide the majority of federal tax revenues.  Which exploded after LBJ’s Great Society added a lot of new federal spending.  And after President Nixon decoupled the dollar from gold in 1971.  Unleashing inflation.  Note that personal income taxes are greater than corporate income taxes.  That’s because there are more people than corporations.  For example, Siemens AG is an international corporation that employs about 360,000 people.  Who all pay personal income taxes.  After personal income taxes comes old-age and survivors insurance.  Otherwise known as Social Security.  And all of these taxes have continued to grow.  Taking a bigger and bigger bite out of disposable incomes.  Putting a drag on new economic activity.  Note that the only falls in federal tax revenue were due to two Democrat-caused recessions.  Bill Clinton’s dot-com bubble burst causing a bad recession in 2000.  And his subprime mortgage lending bubble he started with his Policy Statement on Discrimination in Lending burst causing a bad recession in 2007.  Apart from these, though, the pattern has been more spending.  Not less.  Which would suggest that we do have a spending problem.

Also included on this chart is the federal debt.  Note how it spiked up during World War II.  Then settled down at a constant rate for about 30 years.  Until LBJ’s Great Society spending increased federal spending.  But these massive new taxes weren’t enough.  For that’s when the big deficits started.  Adding on to a growing federal debt.  With the only decline in this growth coming during President Clinton’s presidency.  President Clinton’s dot-com boom (before the bubble burst), the peace dividend from President Reagan winning the Cold War, the Asian financial crisis and Japan’s Lost Decade all helped the American economy shower the treasury with cash.  Putting the nation into a surplus for a year or so.  But that didn’t last.  As federal spending continued to outpace tax revenue.  Culminating with President Obama’s trillion dollar deficits.  With federal tax revenue at the highest since President Bush’s record high just before Clinton’s subprime mortgage bubble burst into the subprime mortgage crisis.  And the Great Recession.

So yes, Virginia, we have a spending problem.  A spending that requires ever higher taxation and ever more borrowing to feed.  Taking an ever bigger chunk out of disposable incomes.  Leaving less and less for new economic growth.  Explaining why the economy has never recovered from the Great Recession.  For President Obama’s policies only increase taxes and the cost of doing business.  And do nothing to create disposable income.



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