After six years of drought and a few months of flooding, California’s decades-long political commitment to ideology of being either for the environment or against progress has endangered the state’s water supply system and is threatening public safety, environmental health and economic stability.
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 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.
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.
The critical document that determines how much space should be left in Lake Oroville for flood control during the rainy season hasn’t been updated since 1970, and it uses climatological data and runoff projections so old they don’t account for two of the biggest floods ever to strike the region. … Most recently, the issue of outdated dam manuals came up in the context of California’s five-year drought.
When operators of Oroville Dam suddenly ordered evacuations on Sunday, it focused a big spotlight on a crucial piece of California’s flood-control infrastructure – spillways. … Some of these dams are getting upgrades, albeit slowly.
In a state with periodic droughts that are expected to increase in severity, California water suppliers know they must make the most of drinking-water supplies. For some that means increasing conservation; for others, it means developing alternative water sources. San Francisco has done both.
From the San Jose Mercury News, in a commentary by Richard Santos:
In the midst of exceptional drought conditions, a new, locally controlled, drought-proof water source for Silicon Valley could not have come at a better time. The Santa Clara Valley Water District, in partnership with the cities of San Jose and Santa Clara, is celebrating the completion of the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center.
Gov. Jerry Brown and legislators are negotiating a new water bond that would go before voters in November. If negotiations break down in the next few weeks – and we hope they don’t – voters would decide on a flawed $11 billion water bond crafted in 2009.
Bureau of Reclamation Acting Commissioner Lowell Pimley announced that Reclamation will provide $1.29 million to nine projects for Title XVI Water Reclamation and Reuse Feasibility Studies. These nine projects are located in California, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas.
Lawmakers in Sacramento representing various factions in the water debate are squabbling over what to include in a bond they submit to voters on the November ballot, or whether to just scrap the whole thing and wait for a better time. There will probably be no better time.