Oroville Dam: Could a catastrophic failure happen again?

The Oroville Dam is situated at the confluence of the Sacramento and Feather rivers, California’s largest reservoir. Reservoir levels at the base of the dam have been dropping over the past three weeks, creating…

Oroville Dam: Could a catastrophic failure happen again?

The Oroville Dam is situated at the confluence of the Sacramento and Feather rivers, California’s largest reservoir. Reservoir levels at the base of the dam have been dropping over the past three weeks, creating a greater risk of debris flow from the spillway.

“There have been catastrophic failure events before, so we can manage, but how long the water stays down there? That’s an unknown. One in a million; one in a thousand. That’s what the world is like,” said Jim Reuther, president of the union that represents many of Oroville Dam’s workers.

The effects of the rainy season are reverberating throughout the upper reaches of the state. Usually dry areas such as the Sierra Nevada mountain range are receiving their share of snow pack and now rivers are beginning to overflow into the towns and farmland in their path. Storms have increased rain and snow in California, which is producing so much runoff it is filling Sacramento and San Francisco reservoirs to record levels. But they haven’t been enough to prop up the reservoir behind Oroville Dam.

With 33 percent of its storage space empty, Oroville Dam’s population has fallen to the point where if the lake level drops any further, more evacuations will be necessary.

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