That government is best … |

That government is best …

Jeanette Strong

“The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but can not do, at all, or can not, so well do, for themselves in their separate, and individual capacities.” — Abraham Lincoln, July 4, 1861

Conservatives and libertarians love to quote Thomas Jefferson saying, “That government is best which governs least.” Actually, Jefferson never said this. Vice President Mike Pence even repeated this spurious quote on Fox & Friends, Sept. 21, 2017, thus proving Republicans have just a passing acquaintance with facts. Abraham Lincoln, the man they claim to respect, was much closer in his analysis of the purpose of government.

Here in Churchill County, we’ve experienced what happens when government is done well. The water year runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. After several years of drought, Nevada experienced record rainfall and snowfall during the 2016-17 water year. It was estimated that when the snow melt began, the runoff would be enough to fill the Lahontan Reservoir three times over. The danger of catastrophic flooding in Northern Nevada was very real.

Rather than wait and see what would happen and then clean up the mess afterward, several federal, state, and county government agencies worked together with private companies and volunteers to be proactive and prevent the damage in the first place. No one agency or company could have done this work alone. It took cooperation and expertise from everyone to make these efforts successful.

The list of government agencies and private companies which participated is very long, but here are a few. Due to space limitations, I can’t name everyone, but everyone’s efforts are very much appreciated.

Governor Brian Sandoval and his office; Nevada Department of Emergency Management; Nevada Department of Transportation; Nevada Division of Forestry; U.S. Bureau of Reclamation; National Weather Service; Naval Air Station Fallon; Mayor Ken Tedford and his office; Truckee Carson Irrigation District; Churchill County Road Department; City of Fallon Public Works; Fallon City Council; Churchill County Board of Commissioners; A&K Earthmovers; Hiskett and Sons; and all of the volunteers who cleaned out miles of the Carson River and filled sandbags for local residents.

Beginning on Feb. 17, these agencies began steps to prevent a disaster that could have cost lives and millions of dollars in lost property and economic activity. TCID and the Churchill County Road Department constructed an emergency weir, or barrier, on the V-line canal, to divert 1000 CFS of water to flow harmlessly into the desert.

The Nevada Department of Transportation installed huge culverts under Highway 50, east of Fallon, and Highway 95, south of Fallon, so water could flow under the highways, toward the Stillwater Wildlife Refuge. This prevented portions of the highways from being washed away. This project will continue to help prevent highway flooding for years to come.

Because of proactive projects like these, water managers were able to release water into the river and irrigation ditches in a controlled manner, adjusting as conditions changed. By the end of the water year, there had been no serious flooding in the Lahontan Valley. Damage from flooding is not just economic, although that is bad enough. It is emotional as well, when people lose irreplaceable items. Prevention is always better than restoration.

The costs for these projects totaled almost $4 million, three-quarters of which could be reimbursed by FEMA. The cost of doing nothing would have been far higher, since these projects were able to move 700,000 acre-feet of water safely away from businesses, homes, and farms. That’s enough water to cover Rhode Island with a foot of water, which is a lot of flooding. (RGJ, 5-10-17)

None of this could have been accomplished without government agencies working together. All of these government agencies are supported by our tax dollars. Republicans act as if tax cuts can solve everything, but how would having extra money in my pocket have stopped the very real threat of flooding? That money was much better spent on the various government agencies which could work together and do real flood mitigation.

That government is best which governs well. The goals of good government are named in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, and surprisingly, cutting taxes is not on the list. Elected officials and the people who vote for them need to look at that list, to remind them what the purpose of government is and what government should be doing for us, the people. Then maybe we’ll start making this a better country for everyone.

Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at