Dam Disasters are amongst the most devastating and yes, spectacular of all catastrophic calamities. In mid-February of 2017, a very wet season for Northern California with many storms delivering large amounts of rain fall filling up behind the Oroville Dam. A stark contrast to the nearly empty levels of 2005 when California was in full-scale drought and Californians had taken to the ancient Native American ‘rain-dancing’ strategy, as all hope had been lost.
The massive amount of water was released through a spillway that has a defective anomaly, which rapidly became worse, it was shut down and an emergency spillway, never used before, started to release the overflowing water. When it did, the water quickly overwhelmed the hillside with erosion, which then got closer and closer to the emergency spillway infrastructure. The failing water way channel of the normal spillway was getting worse, but had to continue the water flow release causing more damage, but still doing its job – for now.
Unfortunately, the winter rain season is still in full swing, and this storm now coming is a Whooper – if they get the level of rain of any of the major storms of the past few months. This one expecting another eight inches of rain. The water level was taken back to a safe level, but now the lake will fill up and be over 100% and if the normal spillway gets too close to eroding the mountainside or starts to fail, then it will be shut down and the emergency spillway will spill over and that will further erode and fail so that amount of weight could cause a major failure near the top, could cause much of the top of the dam on the earth side to come down. That could be 30-feet of water off the top flowing into the Feather River and through the town of Oroville below.
We not done with this winter’s rain or the snow melt coming later, and levees down the way in Sacramento are already nearly ready to go, now under maximum stress. What could happen is a Hurricane Katrina level FEMA issue, then no water for summer, so California could be in for a long-term economic hit too – agriculture, real estate, tax base, and a decade to rebuild the area.
Some say; it might be too late now – 8-inches of rain coming in the next storm. Further, our incompetent government can’t fix it fast enough, and although we have the best dam engineers (pun intended) working on it, it may not be enough, too little too late. Blame games have already begun filtering through the media, the National Guard has been called in, and the authorities are trying to calm everyone down, but the facts remain, everything is not okay. Let’s hope they can avert the pending disaster.