The Oroville Crisis Exposes The Vulnerability Of America's Entire National Dam System

Tyler Durden's picture

Submitted by Adam Taggart via,

To make sense of the fast-developing situation at California's Oroville Dam, Chris spoke today with Scott Cahill, an expert with 40 years of experience on large construction and development projects on hundreds of dams, many of them earthen embankment ones like the dam at Oroville. Scott has authored numerous white papers on dam management, he's a FEMA trainer for dam safety, and is the current owner of Watershed Services of Ohio which specializes in dam projects across the eastern US. Suffice it to say, he knows his "dam" stuff.

Scott and Chris talk about the physics behind the failing spillways at Oroville, as well as the probability of a wider-scale failure from here as days of rain return to California.

Sadly, Scott explains how this crisis was easily avoidable. The points of failure in Oroville's infrastructure were identified many years ago, and the cost of making the needed repairs was quite small -- around $6 million. But for short-sighted reasons, the repairs were not funded; and now the bill to fix the resultant damage will likely be on the order of magnitude of over $200 million. Which does not factor in the environmental carnage being caused by flooding downstream ecosystems with high-sediment water or the costs involved with evacuating the 200,000 residents living nearby the dam.

Oh, and of course, these projected costs will skyrocket higher should a catastrophic failure occur; which can't be lightly dismissed at this point.

Scott explains to Chris how this crisis is indicative of the neglect rampant across the entire US national dam system. Oroville is one of the best-managed and maintained dams in the country. If it still suffered from too much deferred maintenance, imagine how vulnerable the country's thousands and thousands of smaller dams are. Trillions of dollars are needed to bring our national dams up to satisfactory status. How much else is needed for the country's roads, railsystems, waterworks, power grids, etc?

Both Chris and Scott agree that individuals need to shoulder more personal responsibility for their safety than the government advises, as -- let's face it -- the government rarely admits there's a problem until it's an emergency. Katrina, Fukushima, Oroville -- we need to critically parse the information being given to us when the government and media say 'it's all under control', as well as have emergency preparations already in place should swift action be necessary.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Scott Cahill (47m:13s).

Key excerpt:

Chris Martenson: Right, well especially after they just come out of a pretty punishing drought. Obviously a lot of water sensitivity around these issues now; so this is a – it’s really symbolic on a lot of levels. And so you started to mention what I want to get into here for the final part of this is let’s broaden this up Scott. What about – let’s talk about the state of dams across the US in general. I’m sure it’s a mixed bag, some are probably pretty great shape and some are not. But how many would you say are on the worrisome side of the tracks and how do we measure and talk about that? What’s the language here?

Scott Cahill: It’s an interesting problem. The finest dams in the United States I believe are dams which are under the control of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, as is this dam. There are many dams which are in horrible, horrible shape, unbelievable shape across the United States. Many states have 4,000 dams. Many states have 2,000 and 3,000 dams. Of those dams I would imagine that 20% are in an absolutely untenable situation.

When we look at this dam, which is a highly regulated dam, a dam more highly regulated than almost any others. They had an emergency spillway filled with trees. They had a principle spillway that was in the process of failing and had been for years. So, if this can exist on one of the most highly regulated dams then one can just interpolate and imagine what the rest of the situation is like.

Dams and infrastructure in general in these United States have been ignored since they were constructed; many of them 100 years old. The mass of them more than 50 years old. And the design life when they were constructed, generally 50 years. We – it’s hard politically to go back and spend the money proactively to develop safety because nothing has happened. And so, with dam safety, time and time again we act after the horrible event. Something really horrible happens and someone reacts to that and says, “You know I will never let this happen again”. And indeed we move forward. And then the pressure is off and it’s not frightening anymore and we go back to a level of complacency that allows us to get where we stand today.

Dams are in terrible shape in the United States as are all of our infrastructure, bridges, 600,000 bridges with 27% of them not meeting their minimum requirements. A number of these high hazard dams are not even close. There’s a report card given out by the American Society of Civil Engineers and many states, dam inventories are getting D’s, D minuses, D plusses. It’s hard to believe. Certainly someone in the 1960’s would never believe that the United States would have these issues, but we’ve ignored them far too long, Chris.

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Fireman's picture

Just waiting for the swarms of locust.... or a flock of black swans at least.


Considering that the banksters are getting rid of cash because of terrorists...seems logical they should get rid of dams as well.

knukles's picture

Goes to show we need more saftey inspections, regulations and higher taxes to support the uh    the   ummm   uh   (choking sound) ... our superiors in New Zimbabwe?

Shemp 4 Victory's picture

The nuclear power plants aren't in any better shape than the dams.

CRM114's picture

Don't forget the highways!

A Nanny Moose's picture

"Where can I get some dam bait?" - Cousin Eddy.

Hulk's picture

"The Dam Maintenance money ran out in Gurnee" -Cousin Eddy.

Chris Dakota's picture
Chris Dakota (not verified) Hulk Feb 15, 2017 6:24 PM

Spending all this money for empire, nothing at home.

Spending $25 billion per year on entitlements for ILLEGALS and zero to repair the spillway they knew was damaged.

Recall Jerry Brown

svayambhu108's picture

Nice interview, I am following the guy, with the amount of snow outthere and the coming storm guess this is not over...

BuddyEffed's picture

Locusts?  Already plagued by swarms of lawyers.  Locusts wold be a relief.

Hulk's picture

The batshit crazy libs will never recall Brown, even if half the state was destroyed...

PacOps's picture

Obama Stimulus Funds Went to California Dam in ‘Good Shape,’ But Not Oroville


The 2009 stimulus package funded millions of dollars for safety improvements for a dam in California that was in “good shape,” but not to the Oroville Dam that is now on the verge of a spillway crisis.


Gov. Jerry Brown asked for roughly $162 million for cleanup from flooding, and cost estimates to repair the Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway could run as high as $200 million. President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration order for California Tuesday evening, which authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance.

Gov. Brown’s list outlining priority infrastructure projects for the state his office released just last week also included funding for Folsom, but not Oroville.

Lumberjack's picture

Neither are the windmills, which are burning or failing on a weekly basis.

two hoots's picture


First, we pay people to inspect these facilities?  Second, most are likely state/local requirements.  Fed does Fed stuff, States do state stuff.

The truth is that some likely need some ground penetrating inspections and some probably repair. 

As always one must expect some contractor or supplier of materials is behind the warning.   My cynical view.

OT: Lesson for all land/property/home buyers:  the foundation and drainage is really important to inspect.  Before you buy a home visit it immediately on a heavy rain day and see where the water goes/stays.  Other, good idea to look at a home on Sunday when all the cars/trucks are parked in the neighborhood.


Déjà view's picture

'Oroville' Redenbacher popcorn...keep a good supply...sounds as if show is beginning...

Urban Redneck's picture

Even with crazy land nav and engineering skillz... it's not enough.

Flood plain information is a required disclosure in the small print... so read ALL the small print.

Unfortunately, the millions of pages of regulations will NOT protect you, they're designed to protect THEM, so more regs isn't a solution either.

So if you're buying a house, or worse, identuring yourself to any parcel of land for 30 years, you need to do RESEARCH in addition to READING.

The various County and State websites should have subsections for the subordinate departments, in THOSE pages you can often find MAPS.

MAPS for risks like gas pipelines, water treatment, emergency routes, petrochemical facilities, mining licenses, etc. (nuke plants are federal/DOE).


detached.amusement's picture

Its really difficult to engineer for carefully planned sabotage

TBT or not TBT's picture

Oroville dam problems were well diagnosed over a decade ago, with recommended and obvious solutions.   The State of CA preferred to spend on their pubic sectormunion employee priorities, and on making America Great for Illegals.    That's an expensive set of priorities.   And there is the shiny train project.  

CrankyCurmudgeon's picture

All those 180 year old, privately owned dams in New England that haven't been maintained since WWII. But Ayn Rand will save us all.

techpriest's picture

Recently it's become popular among the snowflakes to favor the elimination of hydroelectric dams. It seems that the Left's goal really is to destroy water and energy sources in a bid to generate "Blood for the Blood God," as opposed to doing anything substantial about real problems.

knukles's picture

Dismantle Hydo-Electric?
OK so we'll get along fine on sunshine, grizzly bear droppings and there's an app for that, like uh, you know.


1980XLS's picture

They've already been dismantling Hydro. Despite the fossil  free, carbon free, energy.


The libtards are damned idiots.

Escrava Isaura's picture

1980XLS: They've already been dismantling Hydro. Despite the fossil  free, carbon free, energy. The libtards are damned idiots

Have no doubt, the idiot is you, because dams are not fossil free or carbon free.


IntTheLight's picture

In 1965 we had a population of 194 million. After the 1965 act, where we let in every third world loser, we grew to about 310 million in 50 years. Those people were 100% dependent on government and so they absorbed funds better served for our infrastructure. And they paid minimal taxes, were welfare eaters and did not pay impact fees. All immigrants should have to put up 100,000 to come in as they didn't build this country and should pay for its upkeep. Someone pointed out recently that Europe was built by Europeans and it belongs to the progeny of those who built it. That should apply here too. No more parasites.

PoliticalRefugeefromCalif.'s picture

I grew up in Cal of the sixties and until the nineties it was not unsane, it finally got too much for me tho and I'm glad I left when I did. 

Moonbeam is going to have to put a little more english on to spin this one.

..He might have to put the space program and that secession move on hold until they get that Federal emergency money as well.

averros's picture

You clearly have a reading comprehension problem.

The article clearly says that the CO2 is coming from the decay of trees and other plant material swept into the reservoirs. These trees, of course, took CO2 from the atmosphere shortly before - when they grew up.

The net result is carbon-neutral. And there's no mention of fossil fuels in the article (not sure where did you pull that out from... I can guess, though).

Escrava Isaura's picture

averros: You clearly have a reading comprehension problem. The net result is carbon-neutral.

Article: Seasonal changes in water depth mean there is a CONTINUOUS SUPPLY OF DECAYING MATERIAL. In the dry season plants colonise the banks of the reservoir only to be engulfed when the water level rises.

So, as you can see, carbon neutral is impossible.

Now on the fossil fuel: To build the dam you need oil. All repairs you need oil. The personnel working there needs oil to get there. All the replacement equipments takes oil to be built.

So, no oil, no dam. Even the existing ones will be abandoned.


TBT or not TBT's picture

Thing is, we give a flying fuck about a little more or less CO2, marxist shitbird.  

RogerMud's picture

Oroville makes all of the fuss about the Mosul Dam seem rather ironic.

lincolnsteffens's picture

Whaddaya mean? I got real substantial problems. Like this week I've been having a helluva time trying to decide whether I feel like a woman and should use the woman's bathroom or then I felt like I am a man and should I use the men's bathroom or the trans-gender bathroom.   I got more to think about than bridges falling down or damn dams collapsing.

Get a life.!

detached.amusement's picture

hahaha +1 blood god of the chews

PlayMoney's picture

This is the reason New Orleans got smacked during Katrina. The hurricane actually hit in Mississippi, although you wouldn't know that from the media. The dams failed there otherwise there wasn't huge damage. They actually had a vote on available money, one option to fix the dams, and they voted to spend it elsewhere. 

not dead yet's picture

New Orleans has above ground, most of New Orleans is below river level, man made canals running through it held in place with cement walls. An analogy would be these canals were bathtubs. These walls on the whole were not backfilled but held in place by being anchored in the ground. When the surge came in from Lake P from the north it overtopped the walls and undermined the walls foundation causing them to collapse. If they had been backfilled to the top this may not have happened. None, repeat none, of the levies failed. The fix they put in place was to put gates on the canals so to as to keep the walls from being overtopped and failing. If it was me I would have eliminated the canals and the danger they represent to the city.

bionicknees's picture

That dam and lake are all the property and responsibility of Californica. Their incompetence and misappropriation of funds is on the great Governor. Maybe they need to divert some of their bullet train boondogle dough.

TBT or not TBT's picture

CA govt is govt by the govt for the govt workers.  They pay off the poor and rich to vote against the middle class.  

bionicknees's picture

That dam and lake are all the property and responsibility of Californica. Their incompetence and misappropriation of funds is on the great Governor. Maybe they need to divert some of their bullet train boondogle dough.

bionicknees's picture

That dam and lake are all the property and responsibility of Californica. Their incompetence and misappropriation of funds is on the great Governor. Maybe they need to divert some of their bullet train boondogle dough.

Bryan's picture

Isn't this dam part of the infrastructure that the $XX trillion was going toward?  Oh yeah... all that was for the banksters to keep their balance sheets black. 

Tiwin's picture

Banksters (mostly Jews) and Israel...see todays suck fest with Bibi, I am surprised Trump didnt drop to his kness and start giving a pornstar quality BJ to Bibi....

hound dog vigilante's picture


Not to mention the $Trillion+ Obama stimulus... remember that?  Back in 2009-10, shovel-ready infrastructure projects, etc.

It never happened.  Obama deposited that stimulus $$$ into teachers/public union pensions (wildly under-funded).  Instead of building bridges & dams, Obama bought votes.


Funny how the media NEVER investigates that $Trillion+ Obama stimulus package...



Blankone's picture

Got any links where federal stimulas dollars were deposited into state/county/city pension plans?

Son of Loki's picture

Don't be so hard on Barrack.

After all, he and Pelosi did give us Obamacare and let us keep our health insurance of we want to keep our health insurance.

There's that.


booboo's picture

I'm cool up until Flying Monkeys

viator's picture

Don't worry about it, government will take care of it.

Omen IV's picture



it makes more sense to have another war in some god foresaken place  for at least a Trillion $$$$

TBT or not TBT's picture

But under Trump, war would involve winning.   Give war a chance?    Rather spend it that way than to "stimulate" domestic parasites and tyrants like Obama-Pelosi-Reid did it, while tripling down in Afghanistan and leaving Iraq over to the mullahs and the worst savages the savage muslims of the world could bestialize for the job.  

Mr. Universe's picture

Another sentence that strikes fear into every Patriots heart.

krispkritter's picture

Hello, I'm from the Government and I'm here to help (myself to your forced tax dollars for my living, pension, and thus your next generation's earnings). Yeah, you sure do.  I wouldn't mind so much if they weren't, combined, such an incompetent, disaster-breeding, force of numb-nuts, and too-well-armed psychopaths(IRS for one), indoctrinated into the 'I'm only here to do good.' BS. From local to State to Federal, I've only ever suffered for taking their bad and ill-informed advice.  Last county schlub who showed up here I said " I haven't had much luck taking advice from you people, so you go ahead and ignore me and have a walk around, I'll ignore you just the same."  I'd tell them where the gators are most prevalent, but I'm guessing they wouldn't listen so I could care less. Four years running after outlining their obvious failures and they haven't come back to me yet. Pension-seeking, parasitic, piss-ants, parading as professionals.