Oroville is Alarming for Other Dams

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Maddy Buie

It’s no surprise that after years of low rainfall, the recent storms in California have created a water-related crisis.

Earlier this month in Oroville, Calif., a storm-related crisis emerged, making Oroville just a couple inches of rain away from disaster.

The Oroville Lake, which lies behind the dam, is a man-made reservoir that supplies a portion of California’s water during the spring and summer months. It has a main spillway used to release water into a river and an emergency spillway that releases water when the levels become threateningly high. Prior to the spillover disaster, this precautionary channel had never been used.

Due to the continual strain of water’s erosion, a massive hole in the main spillway of Lake Oroville dam materialized. The hole caused the stream flow of water to steer off track and damage the mountainside and, unfortunately for the Oroville population, threaten the neighboring communities.

The Washington Post wrote that over 188,000 people were ordered an emergency evacuation. The evacuations were lifted again on the 14th after the situation was better controlled.

Precautions are being taken to protect the community from the next storm. Water levels of the lake have dropped significantly and the broken spillway is releasing less water. The expected storm is not predicted to fill the lake more than its capacity.

Not only was the broken spillway a hazard to the land and community, but the erosion of land under the dam due to the broken spillway indicated a possible collapse of the dam itself, according to The Mercury News.

The potential for a larger breakthrough was not out of hand. Just a few more inches of rain and the collapse of the dam could have been possible, sending the city into a state of chaos.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the city is currently releasing enough water so that there will not be a threat of flooding with this week’s storms and they can avoid using the emergency spillway again.

According to USA Today, the Oroville Dam is the second-largest reservoir in California, making it a critical component of California’s water supply system. Further damage will be detrimental to California’s water supply during the dry spring and summer months. The damage could cost up to 200 million dollars on top of the expensive repair cost of the emergency spillway.

However, this dam burst wasn’t entirely unexpected. Built a half century ago, the mechanics of the dam needed to be under regular maintenance. Each gallon of water weighs 7 pounds, and having over 15 billion gallons in the reservoir is an immense weight for the wall to burden.

With a manufacturing project so large, dams like Oroville undergo inspections in order to test the pressure exerted by different water levels. The recent rain events have led to many other reservoir constructions to run security measures if this amount of precipitation continues.

Under these circumstances, a crisis inevitably was bound to happen at the Oroville dam. Luckily, it was a rupture in the spillway that left less damage than a complete collapse of the dam itself. This year, the community of Oroville escaped disaster safely.