Activists Warned Officials About Oroville Dam 12 Years Ago (But Nobody Listened)

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Carey Wedler via,

Officials were warned twelve years in advance about potential safety hazards at the Oroville Dam in Butte County, California, which now faces the risk of flooding nearby residential areas as a result of a broken spillway and increased rainfall.

Local outlet Mercury News reports:

Three environmental groups — the Friends of the River, the Sierra Club and the South Yuba Citizens League — filed a motion with the federal government on Oct. 17, 2005, as part of Oroville Dam’s relicensing process, urging federal officials to require that the dam’s emergency spillway be armored with concrete, rather than remain as an earthen hillside.”

That never happened. The aging Oroville dam, which exceeded capacity on Sunday, began to overflow and spill over the earthen emergency spillway after the main spillway was severely damaged. These developments prompted flood warnings and a declaration of a state of emergency from Governor Jerry Brown. The spillway is on the verge of collapse, a potential disaster that prompted mass evacuations. Over 188,000 residents have been displaced.

The environmental groups’ 2005 filing with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission expressed concern over the exact situation at risk of unfolding now. They warned that in the “event of extreme rain and flooding, fast-rising water would overwhelm the main concrete spillway, then flow down the emergency spillway, and that could cause heavy erosion that would create flooding for communities downstream, but also could cause a failure, known as ‘loss of crest control.’”

According to Ron Stark, policy director with Friends of the River, We said ‘are you really sure that running all this water over the emergency spillway won’t cause the spillway to fail?’ They tried to be as evasive as possible. It would have cost money to build a proper concrete spillway.

Indeed, FERC dismissed their filing “after the state Department of Water Resources, and the water agencies that would likely have had to pay the bill for the upgrades, said they were unnecessary.

Though by Sunday evening officials reported water was no longer spilling over the emergency spillway, they are continuing to release water through the regular, damaged spillway at a rate of 100,000 cubic feet per second, which they claim is consistent with “normal flood control releases.” Footage from local affiliate Fox40 shows the Feather River, which is receiving much of the water releases, is brimming. They report it “looks more like a lake today,” though for now, officials say Feather River remains below flood stage.

According to Fox40, officials with the Department of Water Resources saythey have not been able to access the area on the emergency spillway that has been eroded.”

Officials are scrambling to continue clearing water and repairing the damaged spillway, as more storms are expected on Wednesday and Thursday.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said officials are working on a “repopulation plan” for evacuated residents, though they offered no time table, asserting instead they will allow people to return when it is safe.

Regardless of the outcome, the ongoing incident has undoubtedly demonstrated gaping flaws with the methods government agencies use to maintain aging infrastructure.

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GUS100CORRINA's picture

Unbelievable ... just wonder how much of the infrastruture across America is in the same shape?

I will bet America has a problem with at least 70% of its infrastructure. Whatever TRUMP has in mind for infrastructure spending, it will probably not be enough.

The real disaster waiting to happen is America's electrical grid.

CRM114's picture

Advice I got from a recently retired dam inspector trainer

"Don't go near any dams".

Cognitive Dissonance's picture

It is always and forever about the money.

fulliautomatix's picture

Feature, flaw - depends on your point of view.

CheapBastard's picture

Bridges, roads and tunnels are in bad shape. That's why Soweeto devoted trillions to bombing the middle east instead of repairng them.

It's the reason why those bright, up-to-date, well-informed kids were rioting at berkley the other night.....

...oh, wait a second....

vato poco's picture

if we have any concrete/construction ZHers out there, maybe you can help me figure this out. in another article I read about this, they mentioned the (suspected) reason the feds/state shot down the concerns detailed above were "the expected $100-200MM cost of concreting up an almost-never-used emergency spillway."

$100-200 MILLION bucks?? they're not building a casino, they're just (presumably) laying down rebar & concrete over a not-all-that-vast area. 

that number seems waaaay high, but then I'm not a construction guy. If that's the number they used, I smell a LOT of kickback juice. yes? no?

The_Juggernaut's picture

Oh, come on.  It's easy to point fingers afterward, but how was California supposed to know in advance that water erodes dirt hillsides? 

techpriest's picture

One of the 500 lb. gorillas in the room is that all of this infrastructure costs a great deal to maintain. Any "stimulus" plan in reality is a "fix what we already have" plan.

CA is going to go down in history as the failed state that had transgender bathrooms, but no clean water for the sinks. Other states aren't that far behind though - Dallas is not that far from here, and while the pensions are going bankrupt, they are building trendy-looking parks. Wrong priorities all around.

CrazyCooter's picture

Which is why so many people like Richardson, Plano, etc.

Dallas proper is fairly corrupt in my opinion - but the economy around it has done well so it isn't as visible as other places which are experiencing stress.



Tiwin's picture

Stop bashing Trannies!

Its not the trannies that are Cali's fiscal anchor.
It is the hugely bloated govt salaries and retirement that bankrupt the state eventually
That fucking train aint helping either.
No one is gonna leave their car behind to save one hr LA-SF

itstippy's picture

If we spend the money necessary to get the train operational we can evacuate people from areas threatened by catastrophic infrastructure failures more efficiently.  Plan ahead, you know.

Antifaschistische's picture

Very funny, if the corp had recommended paving a hillside, the same groups would have sued them for environmental destruction

Déjà view's picture

When can 'Oroville' Redenbacher be popped...

ultraticum's picture

An wonderful Emanuelian crisis/opportunity to steal from people, now in the name of "rebuilding our infrastructure", as opposed to the last 25 years excuse for theft, the "war on terror".


Helix6's picture

Not to mention the 40-year "war on drugs", the 50-year "war on poverty", the privatized prisons, ...  This is messed up beyond words.  Right now, the Federal, State and Local governments are spending $100 million per day in the "war on drugs."  \

Of course, some of that cost is defrayed by the drug running profits they pull in working the other side of the trade as well.  But the point is, we can piss away $100 million on a daily basis, but we can't come up with $100 million to maintain a major dam?

vato poco's picture

the "war on drugs" has been going on since 1914. nixon just gave it the catchy handle. 

103 fucking years, and any junior high kid in this country can get his hands on any drug he wants & can pay for in 72 hours or less. everybody knows a guy who knows a guy. this after a hundred YEARS of "war". so naturally, the cops & the prison guards & the DEA - whose jobs depend on this - want to double down. yet again.

fuck this fucking kabuki theater!

sinbad2's picture

"war of drugs" fixed it for ya.

Implied Violins's picture

...only the stealing this time, were the dam to fail, will be destroyed cities and especially farmland, which the dam was supposedly erected to help sustain.

Can you imagine what would happen if that thing blew? The entire valley would suffer consequences. There could be as many as five million people without homes or jobs. The land would be unsuitable for agriculture until it dried out and waterways are restored.

This stinks of Agenda 21/Agenda 2030 bullshit to me. For that reason, I question whether the damn was purposefully built to fail, and that the original spillway damage may very well have been sabotage. This article doesn't assuage those fears.

Tiwin's picture

Silly goose! That money is all going to Israel and for wars on behalf of Israel!

knukles's picture

Oh this is the classic gotta have it to survive and need the money, then years later the money's been spent on equipping 3 stall bathrooms for the confused and the infrastructure's gone to hell and they'll need MOAR money to fix what they WASTED money on the first time.
If big goobermint is bad, massive suffocating government's all the better.
I love Big Brother.

chubbar's picture

Won't be long before moonbeam has his hand out for federal aid. I say Trump withholds all aid until sanctuary cities are gone and any sanctuary state legislation is withdrawn. Fuck them.

CheapBastard's picture

Trump better have some strings attached or they'll give him the finger again.


Many of those Cali mayors and pussy police departments out there already said they would disobey him and/or any federal law they don't like.

They need to learn this works two ways.

And the GOP better get off their asses and support Trump and get to work on their own projects and stop diddling with these hecking loser Democrats.

Miffed Microbiologist's picture

It's called crisis management. There were warnings that the brush in San Diego county was way too overgrown due to no significant burns in 25 years. The fuel calculation released by a study in 2002 said a potential fire storm was likely in certain conditions. Well, a moron decided to light a signal fire in the middle of a Santa Ana windstorm causing the largest fire in Cali history. A water plane was recalled in flight because he had no authorization to make a drop at night and the sun was going down, the person in authority was attending a barbecue and had turned off his pager to not be bothered. The cascade of errors was a massive clusterfuck.

Now if any brushfire starts they hit it with everything they got. It's hard not to be cynical.


buzzsaw99's picture

global warming means it will never rain ever again in california anyway so why worry about it?

vato poco's picture

IIRC, a few years back state "experts" and "expert" climatologists were solemnly assuring us that the drought was so turrible, "it would take decades to refill the reservoirs, if ever". 

thank god for experts

techpriest's picture

This is what made me a skeptic. When there's a drought, "Global warming is causing the drought and it will get worse!" Until it rains, "Global warming is causing the rain and it will get worse!"

Basically, anything other than sunny, 72 degrees, and occasional rain, and here comes the freaking boogey man.

cougar_w's picture

Global warming is probably why it is raining a shit ton. We go from one extreme to another, the weather-or-not models are confused, and it won't likely settle down for 1,000 years.

techpriest's picture

My own take on it is that an increase in available energy (warming) could mean, aside from temperature increases, increases in wind velocity, increases in evaporation and precipitation (extra heat loss from more water vapor), and in a more subtle sense, a change in wind/ocean patterns until you get a new equilibrium that requires a higher energy state to maintain.

Of course, how good or bad these are, are more difficult predict than climatologists let on.

cougar_w's picture

Yes, basic atmospheric dynamics apply. Well understood. The problem is our planet is now at disequilibrium for a lot of the drivers (including surface temp and ocean circulation patterns) and will take a while to "settle down" in the energy distribution sense. Of particular interest is the question of how much ice needs to melt to meet the new energy dynamic. We can see that playing out in the Arctic this winter (seriously WTF is that about) and across the WAIS where that shit looks to be coming seriously unwired. Since we have another 20 years of warming just from the CO2 output of the last 20 years (including the years when China came online as a huge consumer of fossil energy) we can count on at least that long before we know where the planet is headed in a real sense. Add to that everything yet to be emitted -- really, BAU the next 30 years at least -- well I would not want to be on the hook to address the policy implications. There have been some really ugly scenarios making their way around the underbelly of the Internet, if I had to pick something likely (just my gut feeling on that) I'd have to go with the WAIS coming unhinged and dumping 3 feet of sea level rise over the next 20 years, and Greenland adding another 1 foot to that, and the Arctic being ice-free in summers and probably by 2030 ice-free (or slushy) over the winter. The northern attack on Greenland glaciers will be something to see, people will take cruises there just to watch the raging torrent hit the sea at 1M cf/s. And while I'm being a wet rag here I'll take the apocalyptic route and opine that the methane clathrates off Russia's Arctic edge are set to go -- I watched a video where a Russian climatologist very carefully would not talk about it at all when asked -- and when that shit storm starts and goes into positive feedback I don't know how we'll be able to cope at all. Just bogles the mind. Lot's of fun stuff coming our way.

sinbad2's picture

There is a thousand years of inertia in the earths climate. The warming we are experiencing today was caused 1,000 years ago, when man cleared the forests for agriculture.

The best is yet to come.

Seeing Red's picture

Or, if a super-volcano goes off, we go into an ice age (or technically a period of increased glaciation).  Since global warming is mostly ocean warming, there are a lot of possibilities.  As always, like your post though.

sinbad2's picture

The hotter it gets, the more evaporation, and so more rain.

I really can't understand why so many Americans think that the hotter it gets the drier it will get.

Miss Expectations's picture

Tsk Tsk...The climate always changes. There were once glaciers in Orange County, NY.
Central Valley was once a lake:

Tiwin's picture

In a most sickening display of global waminista-ism today Hawaii's senator used his Yellen time to preach global warming.
Now i am no fan of the fed , but I dont believe climate change is part of their mission?

MarkD's picture

Trump should just get rid of those environmental groups.

Edit: Just like he's getting rid of those pesky bank regulations.

NoWayJose's picture

"It never rains in California, but girls don't they warn ya"

Tipsy's picture

Looks like we're going to have to make the CA bullet train run on an elevated platform.  Back to the drawing board!

sinbad2's picture

Never going to have high speed trains in the US, stick to what you know, steam.

koan's picture

That useless fuck Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor then too, I guess he was too busy getting his maid pregnant.

NoWayJose's picture

If California is lucky, the 30 foot wall of water will sweep through Sacramento and flush Governor Moonbeam and the Lib legislature into the Pacific Ocean!

Déjà view's picture

'Serfs' Up...hang ten to begin with...