The Oroville Dam crisis in California has highlighted the need for significant infrastructure overhaul in this country, and while this isn’t necessarily a new development, it seems to be consistently overlooked. Back in 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ACSE) issued our country’s infrastructure a not so hot D+ grade, according to a CBS New article, so it shouldn’t be too surprising to anyone that the Oroville disaster happened. What may be surprising to some though is the fact that California officials were alerted to a flaw in 2005 that could damage the structure of the Oroville dam if major flooding occurred. Fast forward to February’s events, and what do you know, the warning became a reality.
As reported by the Sacramento Bee, the flaw that was identified in 2005 was that the main spillway used in an emergency releases water to a desolate dirt only hillside, which seems like an obvious disaster waiting to happen if you know how large amounts of fast moving water interacts on a downward slope with no impediments. But even if it wasn’t obvious, officials were informed with what most reasonable people would consider to be ample time (11 years and 2 months) to fix the defect. So, what response was given by state officials when presented with this information?
As the Sacramento Bee article stated:
“Our facilities, including the spillway, are safe during any conceivable flood event, ” said Raphael Torres, acting deputy director of the State Water Project.”
That comment may go into the hall of fame for foot in mouth comments. Not only was it not safe, it was no where near ready to handle the needed amount of flood water in February. Hopefully, officials will now believe the recommendation that was made in 2005, but it wouldn’t be totally surprising if they decided to write this off as a once in a lifetime scenario and roll the dice on the next time.