Was the collapse of the Oroville Dam an accident waiting to happen?
By Olivia Daniels
Located in Northern California, it is the tallest dam in the United States, but it was standing in the face of disaster. The Oroville Dam began breaking apart on Feb. 7, 2017, with a small gash releasing 55,000 cubic feet of rushing water. This was 18% of the 300,000 originally designed to be sustained, but the gash was only growing.
“The aging dam has become a serious threat despite being a vital infrastructure, supporting cities and farms all across the country,” Jana Dawson Frazier said, California Department of Water Resource tour guide.
The dam contains 1.1 trillion gallons of water, and due to overly wet weather conditions, the reservoir had been filled to the brim. According to the Los Angeles Times, it was at 151% of its normal capacity when the gash reached its final length of 500 feet. Because the dam had sustained more flow pressure than originally designed to, the rushing water created a hole 45 feet deep in the Earth.
“The really wet conditions on top of the already aged concrete, inadequate repairs, design flaws, as well as a misunderstanding in geology made this incident not only predictable, but inevitable,” Robert Bea said, a retired civil engineering professor at UC Berkeley who led one of the investigations into the failures of the New Orleans levee system in Hurricane Katrina’s wake
The main spillway rapidly eroded two weeks ago, Feb. 1, 2017, due to heavy storms and forced a shut-off. The lake then filled, and water poured onto an earthen (a floor or structure made of condensed Earth) emergency spillway that eroded and clogged the power plant’s intake with debris. Estimates have put the expense of repairs at 100 million dollars or more, but the damage had only just begun.
“Do we repair what we have? Do we replace what we have? Do we build the spillway somewhere else? All options are on the table,” Bill Croyle said, the acting director of the Department of Water Resources.
Worried about the further damage the dam could cause on surrounding towns, officials ordered residents nearby and farther downstream to evacuate, because a catastrophic flooding could damage more than the citizens lives, but the local economy as well.
“We can’t let this event cripple the local economy,” Dawn Nevers said, assistant city planner in Oroville. Unfortunately rifts have been caused between conservative towns alongside the river, but with time, people heal.