Communities just downstream of California’s Lake Oroville dam would not receive adequate warning or time for evacuations if the 770-foot-tall dam itself – rather than its spillways – were to abruptly fail, the state water agency that operates the nation’s tallest dam repeatedly advised federal regulators a half-decade ago.
Feeling confident they’ve created sufficient empty space in Lake Oroville for the time being, state Department of Water Resources officials said they reduced spillway outflows so they could address another looming challenge: restarting the dam’s hydroelectric plant, which can release additional water when operational.
A powerful storm hit California with the first in a new series of rainstorms moving across the northern half of the state while the south awaited a rains that forecasters said could be the strongest in years if not decades.
Just over a week ago, a series of events began to unfold rapidly at Oroville Dam. … I [General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger] had the opportunity to fly over Oroville this past week and I was inspired by the hard work and cooperative effort of all involved. The flood control spillway is in operation lowering the lake level to make room for more storm flows.
Jeffrey Mount, a leading expert on California water policy, remembers the last time a crisis at the Oroville Dam seemed likely to prompt reform. It was 1997 and the lake risked overflowing, while levees further downstream failed and several people died.
Rainwater erosion alongside the Oroville Dam’s main spillway appears to have contributed to the heavy damage that prompted a crisis, forcing more than 100,000 to be evacuated from their homes, a report reviewed by The Times showed.
Given the enormity of the challenge and the national attention it has received, the events at the Oroville Dam have spurred calls for a more active federal role in rebuilding American infrastructure. However, rhetoric can only go so far in the face of the country’s long-standing challenge to plan and pay for these improvements, and Washington simply cannot tackle such a herculean task on its own. Instead, the Oroville Dam crisis should serve as a reminder of just how much infrastructure oversight falls under state, local, and even private leadership.
The frantic effort over the last few days to lower water levels at Oroville Dam after the structure’s two spillways became damaged is part of a larger drama playing out as California rapidly shifts from extreme drought to intense deluges.
Water projects necessarily have impacts on fish and other aquatic species. Water, after all, is habitat. So when a new dam or diversion is proposed, we need to find out what fish, frogs and other species will be affected, how many and how significantly. Trouble is, those questions have always been answered based on limited data.
Heavy winter rains and erosion of the Oroville Dam’s two spillways sparked an evacuation of at least 188,000 people living in the communities of Oroville, Marysville, and surrounding downstream areas. The events that unfolded over the past eight days can inform a more educated conversation about water management going forward.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has ordered inspections of all county dams, spillways and other flood control infrastructure, prompted by the emergency at Lake Oroville in Northern California over the past week, when failures of two spillways used to lower the lake’s water level prompted mandatory evacuations.
The near-failure on Sunday evening of the auxiliary spillway at Oroville Dam and the ongoing emergency operations to contain flood waters in California’s second-largest reservoir and shore up its eroding outlet are a tale of caution for the nation’s aging dam fleet. … Dam safety experts cite money as the most significant impediment to safer dams.
Officials raced to drain more water from a lake behind battered Oroville Dam as new storms began rolling into Northern California on Wednesday and tested the quick repairs made to damaged spillways that raised flood fears.
For five years, the 10,000 residents of Newport, Oregon, have known the reservoir that stores their drinking water is unsafe. The city built two dams on the Big Creek River in 1951 and 1969, long before Oregonians knew about the high risk of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.
The Oroville Dam debacle is a wake-up call to California. If we heed the call, we may be able to avoid what could certainly be other disasters and wrong turns in the state water system as we head into an age typified by extreme weather events associated with climate change.