A Failing Dam, Decades In The Making
Following a torrential rain pour, the Oroville Dam burst, releasing some 300 million gallons of water on unsuspecting Californian, causing the deaths of five people and millions of dollars in property damages, including lost homes and more.
180,000 people were evacuated from the water’s pathway. The Oroville Dam, located north of Sacramento, began to crumble after heavy rain and snowmelt eroded the structure, leaving a trail of devastation in its wake. Now, residents and officials are wondering, could this have been prevented?
The 50 year old Oroville Dam is supposed to undergo annual inspections. However, according to reports, including in an article by the San Francisco Chronicle, a dam can sometimes go nearly two years without an inspection. For example, if it was examined in January, officials have until December of the following year to complete another examination, while potential issues are exacerbated in the meantime.
To add to the matter, Oroville is considered a “high hazard” dam. Nevertheless, California does not require the owners of high hazard dams to develop an emergency action plan in the event of failure.
While Oroville does have an emergency action plan in place, a 2011 letter to federal regulators showed that officials did not believe there would be sufficient time to evacuate all the necessary residents, in the event of the dam’s failure.
Built in 1968, the Oroville Dam began to show a gaping crater in the primary spillway on February 7th, leading to evacuations in the area by February 12th. According to those familiar with the situation, the problems appear to have been caused by defects that were previously flagged going back more than a decade, prompting questions surrounding the officials’ handling and monitoring of the dam.
More than half of California’s dams-833-are labeled as “high hazard.”