This aerial view from a California Department of Water Resources drone shows water flowing over the auxiliary spillway at Oroville Dam on Saturday, February 11, 2017, after the lake level exceeded 901 feet elevation above sea level.

Evacuations of over 100,000┬ápeople near Oroville Dam remained in effect Monday, as engineers worked to repair damage to an emergency spillway that threatened to send torrents of water into nearby towns. State officials say that the 770-foot dam itself is not in danger and the threat of flooding lessened Monday as Lake Oroville’s water level dropped. But more storms are expected this week, prompting officials to continue to drain water from the lake. We discuss the state of the dam, the ongoing impacts on surrounding communities and the condition of the California’s water infrastructure.

Guests:
Paul Rogers, managing editor, KQED's Science unit; environment writer, San Jose Mercury News
Jeff Mount, senior fellow, Public Policy Institute of California; emeritus professor of earth and planetary Sciences, UC Davis
Chris Megerian, reporter, Los Angeles Times

  • EIDALM

    The near failing of the Oroville dam as extremely dangerous to the lives of hundreds of thousands people is only the tip of iceberg of the failing infrastructure across the whole country with terrible roads and highways, very dangerous in poor shape bridges and cross roads which all are the result of tax cuts and total neglect by both the states and federal government to keep the whole infrastructure safe for the American people…..Driving on some streets in Berkeley feels like driving on the surface of the moon, it is very dangerous and extremely damaging to our automobiles as well it can cause serious accidents specially to bicyclist.

    • William – SF

      Infrastructure maintenance involves both above and below ground improvements. Often, what isn’t seen is more vital – think water transportation.

  • Paul

    Always ask:
    Who will profit if there’s a tragedy?
    Who will make a tragedy happen in order to profit from it?
    How will the “common man” suffer from the machinations of powerful people?
    How can the “common man” protect himself from their schemes?

    A related question is, will profiteering landlords price gouge people who are newly homeless?

    Rahm Emanuel: “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste”

  • Kurt thialfad

    Is the dam federal or state or both? How much can California expect to be helped by the feds, while continuing the statewide sanctuary policy as embodied in ex-legislator Ammianio’s Trust Act?
    It’s not like we have any ounce of synergy with this administration. We may need to do this all ourselves.

    • Robert Thomas

      As you heard, it’s a California reservoir and largely, it’s California’s bill.

  • Robert Thomas

    The risk assessment of using the auxiliary spillway clearly assumed that the auxiliary spillway would only ever likely overflow because of an extremely rare set of weather events; NOT because the MAIN, “throttle-able” spillway would have suffered catastrophic failure of a sinkhole.

    A question about the events I haven’t heard answered OR asked, is why did the hydrologists throttle back the water flowing over the damaged main spillway while the water in the reservoir was rapidly rising? Did they consider that the value of saving the remaining portion of the main spillway from further damage was greater than the value of reduced head at the auxiliary spillway? At some point, obviously, that calculus changed. Flow over the main spillway was increased from ~50kcfs immediately after the main spillway damage occurred to something like 100kcfs.

  • Robert Thomas

    I know for a fact (having as a layperson had a chance to discuss the problem with a professional) that especially in Southern California, the dual function (water storage; flood control) of many dams means that the optimal level of a reservoir is often visibly lower than “full up”, making for “bad optics” where people often recreate, in the middle of a drought, in the middle of a desert.

    One of the panel members just mentioned this.

  • Kevin Skipper

    Dam! Looks like these guys will make anything into a fear story. Like a civil-engineering quilting bee. Yeah, yeah, dams need to be replaced. We all know that. Why the shake-down and beg around? If the dam is so inadequate then how has it worked so well so far. No flooded towns. No drowned residents. It’s an earthfill dam, not the hoover. Maintain it and keep it simple.

    Not to get too conspiratorial but perhaps one of these dam experts can help me get this dam thing figured out.

    Looking at a photo of the supposed damage, it’s interesting that the main spillway seems to be only partially open. Were the main gates or hydroelectric components damaged? Please clarify.

  • Ehkzu

    The San Jose Mercury News–arguably the 2nd largest newspaper in KQED’s core listener area–has gotten over 3,000 comments so far on its article on this topic. 90% of the comments are rants from angry right wing ideologues–Trump voters–most of whom are not Mercury News readers–all blaming this on Democrats/libruls/illegal immigration/government regulation.

    This is how the GOP dominates public debate outside pockets like KQED Forum–it simply drowns out local and/or thoughtful voices.

    Which is especially ironic here, since this is a perfect example of the consequences of UNDER-regulation.

    • Kevin Skipper

      Yeah. California’s schizophrenic water panic attacks make Trump and the GOP (of which he is not really a part) look like such idiots. Question is, if liberals are so smart and so interested in infrastructure spending then why we have to trick ourselves in order to appropriate funds to maintain our most basic civil structures?

      • Ehkzu

        I’m not exculpating liberals from their own kinds of errors. Nobody wants to spend money on things that aren’t sexy–like anything a politician (regardless of party) can’t put a plaque on with his name on the plaque. And things like rare flood conditions or earthquakes, which are very dangerous but also rare and unpredictable. And of course liberals want to spend money on people who need help, regardless of whether the problem they need help for is of their own doing. And liberal opposition to nuclear power plants is an especially egregious example of simplistic, ideological thinking.

        However, liberals are not organizing these mass assaults on publication comment threads, and conservatives are. I was appalled by college self-styled liberals trying (usually successfully) to silence right wingers from speaking on campus, as recently happened in Berkeley. My point is that anyone who opposes that should oppose “thread-flooding” like you can see at the Mercury News, Washington Post etc.–and this is far more insidious…and pervasive.

        The Oroville dam issue is not, to me, primarily a partisan issue, but rather one of human limitations in dealing with rare, unpredictable, dangerous problems. Also with slow-moving problems like man-caused climate change. We’re well-equipped to deal with the sorts of problems that faced hunter-gatherers in East Africa 200,000 years ago. Stuff like this…not so much.

        • Kevin Skipper

          First off, periods of heavy rain in California are, in no way, rare. In 2005, it rained for 40 days straight. Seems that our collective memory is spans only a presidential administration or two. The state used to be a rainforest, for crying out loud!

          I don’t see water safety issues being treated as a partisan issue. The recent pseudo-flood is a bi-cameral narrative meant to stir broad-based reactionary fear, bolstered by ignorance or unfamiliarity.

          If this country were as efficient or as hardy as East Africa, we wouldn’t have piles of stinking, drug-addicted homeless people in our streets.

          As it is, California know’s exactly what to do with a (routine) situation such as this. Turn it into a circular debate, shake-down the public, forget about it a decade later, repeat as needed.

        • kpwn

          as recently happened in Berkeley
          If you’re referring to Pedo Milo, his “free speech” career is built on targeting politically incorrect persons for mob harassment and threats.
          UK laws probably halt that sooner than US laws.

    • William – SF

      It’s what masturbation looks like in the Trump era.

    • Fielding Mellish

      I would think that most of these ranters would seek medical attention since their election has lasted over 8hrs …

  • Kevin Skipper

    The water flow volumes that the guests are quoting are totally out of context. What’s the normal capacity of the spillways? What’s so special about this post drought rain that makes it so much more destructive?

    • Robert Thomas

      It wasn’t an especially large flow, that I can see (after a cursory internet search of the mundane facts), compared to other full-reservoir events there. A sinkhole undermined the fifty-plus-year-old concrete spillway. There’s a reasonable question, whether the failure of the main spillway was due to a too-casually inspected leaky concrete structure or whether it was more caused by a concealed (to 1957 technology) geological anomaly.

      • Kevin Skipper

        I agree. I just looked into these ‘geological anomalies’ like induced seismicity. Pseudoscience and conjecture. Kind of like the idea of fracking casing earthquakes under the Great Plains, despite their being densely interspersed with ancient aquifers. Seems that in either case we’re faced with the same problem. We have to maintain our structures. We can shovel funds to new buildings, new bars, new streetlights and new immigrants but it doesn’t change precedent.

  • Robert Thomas

    I wonder whether the caller who made the ridiculous comparison between the Lake Conemaugh dam and the Oroville dam actually had a question in mind that was not stupid, before he was cut off.

  • RichardCurry

    Suggestion: Membrane over spillway. thick plastic (vinyl? Strong, possibly longitudinally reinforced) membrane over the spillway to protect the concrete. Like a Slip ‘n’ Slide. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slip_'N_Slide

  • Kevin Skipper

    Induced Seismicity is still a theoretical concept. In fact, it appears that this year’s dam scare is the first instance in which damage to an American dam has been attributed to this specious theory.

  • Paul

    “The Oroville Dam failure is yet another example of Jerry Brown’s malfeasance as Governor,” Assemblyman Travis Allen said in a statement. “The Oroville dam failure was entirely avoidable: California passed a $7.5 Billion water bond in 2014 but Jerry Brown didn’t spend $1 on new water storage or improvements to existing infrastructure like Oroville. Now trillions of gallons of water are being lost and people are evacuating their homes. What does it take for the California Democrats to actually fix anything?”

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