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Discussion > The Oroville Dam

State legislators aren’t getting answers about the Lake Oroville spillway. Neither is the federal government. Or the county government. Or journalists. Or the public.

But matters are coming to a head as two north state legislators whose districts include Lake Oroville are demanding answers. It’s about time.
EastBayTimes: Editorial: Time for Legislature to fight through Oroville Dam secrecy

2) TheSacramentoBee: Public needs answers on repairing Oroville dam, Delta levees and California Aqueduct

3) TheFresnoBee: California storm to bring rainfall that could flood river

Apr 6, 2017 at 6:19 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

The original license was approved when the dam was completed in the 1960s, and that license expired in 2007. Since then, DWR has operated the project with temporary permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is responsible for licensing hydroelectric projects.

Over the past decades, since even before the license expired, there have been negotiations and delays. In early December, the agencies and local groups involved in the negotiations believed they were near the final step. That’s when a 400-page biological opinion was finalized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

If all had gone as planned, the final license renewal was expected this summer.
ChicoERNews: More delays for Oroville Dam relicensing; appointments needed from Trump

Apr 11, 2017 at 2:13 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Robert Christopher,

it seems that the "cover-up" is going to cause more political damage.

Trump is unlikely to agree to requests for US Taxpayer support to the State of California, without knowing what the hell is going on, and what the hell has not been going on.

Engineers should be capable of explaining the technical issues, and safety concerns that may effect the lives of the public, based on their official reports and safety inspections carried out since original construction. If they are prevented by politicians from releasing information that effects public safety, and could be believed to be effecting public safety, then the public and journalists know they can't trust the Politicians.

If Politicians have been using low water levels behind the Oroville Dam to illustrate Global Warming propaganda, when it only illustrates reckless financial mismanagement, the public have a right to know. Law Enforcement can then make their own decisions.

Apr 11, 2017 at 4:33 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

Here is an independent analysis for the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at UC Berkeley by Robert Bea, a co-founder of the center and a retired civil engineering professor.:
LosAngelesTimes: Serious design, construction and maintenance defects doomed Oroville Dam, report says
(Click on the document icon to open the document) Page 31 of the document has some revealing pictures.

Here is another video by the guy whom we have seen before. He takes us through the report as well as giving an update on the weather and the dam:
Video: Oroville 18 April Spillway Failure Explained-Independent CCRM Report

Apr 19, 2017 at 4:50 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Interesting parallels between the Bea document and the Challenger disaster analysis. The fact that a catastrophe had not happened on previous releases/launches was taken as indicating that the risk could be disregarded.

Apr 20, 2017 at 8:09 AM | Unregistered CommenterMartin A

Apr 20, 2017 at 8:09 AM | Martin A

"It's never done THAT before" is not the most convincing statement, to read in a report after the failure has occurred.

The report contains some design details, but no way of knowing whether these relate to this dam spillway, or whether these designs were adhered to. I am familiar with encountering original design drawings, that have little resemblance to what was actually built.

The problem seems to be that the spillway consisted of a series of individual reinforced concrete slabs/rafts, inadequately "fixed" to poor quality bedrock, with loose debris separating the two. The lack of steel reinforcement between adjacent slabs is pointed out as a design fault, but this was probably deliberate to allow some thermal expansion/contraction, as well as to cope with some compaction and consolidation.

Unfortunately, over time, the poorly consolidated material was washed out. This may have been exacerbated by defective drainage and tree root obstructions. Once one slab partially dropped or moved, rapid erosion would have occurred.

It is only surprising that more of the slabs downstream of the initial failure did not also fail.

The photos confirm some repairs had been carried out. It is not clear if these were limited to the condition of the slabs, when the problems actually lay beneath the slabs. (I might have anticipated drilling through the slabs and deep into bedrock, to "bolt" the slabs into place? Possibly injecting some cementitious grout/slurry compound into the void to consolidate the loose material and prevent furthe erosion?)

The engineering survey and maintenance history has now been locked down. If California wants US Taxpayer financial support, Trump will highlight political and accountancy defects in California.

"It has never done that before". When was the spillway ever required before?

If the defects were known or suspected, the reservoir water level may have been kept deliberately low, so the spillway was not required to be used, meanwhile water shortages were blamed on Global Warming droughts. More political damage before winter?

If other dam spillways have been constructed in similar conditions, using similar techniques, it may be that California has not been able to use much of its designed water storage capacity.

Apr 20, 2017 at 9:41 AM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

As you might have guessed, I regularly search for Oroville Dam news, but I picked these up and wondered if anyone had seen any other sources to back up these reports. I can't find any reports that are from news outlets that I have seen before:

Risk of Dam Failure, food production, transportation, and the cancellation of Cal Exit:
Protecting infrastructure at Oroville

CalExit politics:
TheMercuryNews: ‘Calexit’ campaign dropped as leader bolts for Russia

Tanks near Oroville:
4/22/17 Oroville Dam Update : Tanks Spotted Near Oroville Dam-We Know Why

Apr 24, 2017 at 12:16 AM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Haven't seen any more reported sighting of (military) tanks, and we have some good news: the official reports have been released (though with some redacting) and they appear to be getting on with the planning:
Oroville 26 April DWR Reports Explained

The March 10th DWR report was already public and elected officials have successfully pressured the other two reports March 17th & 21st, to be released, although there was some redaction.

Much dryer weather is expected
1.6m cu yd debris have been removed from the diversion pool
Failure was due to water penetrating under slabs through cracks
Planning aeration of main spillway water to reduce cavitation damage to the concrete
Emergency spillway to be designed to be able to take total expected flow, interim flow of 30k cfs (but long term 371k cfs, a massive increase, in case it is the ONLY outflow). That would damage levees downstream, but it may be what is needed.
DWR Outreach meetings starting today (Thu) afternoon, local time.

LosAngelesTimes: Water officials brief lawmakers on $275-million price tag for Oroville Dam repairs

Apr 27, 2017 at 2:15 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher


January 27, 2016
... Despite the snow in the Sierra Nevada, the water filling Lake Shasta, and the rapids in the Kern River, California is still in a state of drought. For now, maybe forever.
Wired: Thanks El Niño, But California’s Drought Is Probably Forever

September 5th, 2016
Executive Order Aims to Make Water Conservation a Way of Life in California
Governor Brown Issues Order To Continue Water Savings As Drought Persists

Apr 28, 2017 at 10:06 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

After all the rain and floods, one could think that they do not have enough storage to capture sufficient water, if they are still in drought.

Apr 29, 2017 at 7:35 PM | Unregistered CommenterSteve Richards

Apr 29, 2017 at 7:35 PM | Steve Richards

One could also think that financial incompetence has made it easier for California to blame Global Warming for water shortage, rather than accept responsibility for maintaining existing water storage capacity, and increasing it with new capacity., to cope with population growth.

Trump has them by the CliSci Gang's Goolies, and he has yet to squeeze.

Apr 30, 2017 at 10:02 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

“The emergency spillway worked.” That is the latest tone-deaf assessment from the leader of the state Department of Water Resources about the Feb. 11 crisis around the Oroville Dam
EastBayTimes: Editorial: Politicians, public must demand answers on Oroville Dam

May 2, 2017 at 11:49 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Oroville Dam: The latest on spillway repairs – and what state won’t tell us

Outside consultants agree with the state’s plan to spend the next two summers replacing sections of Oroville Dam’s still largely intact upper spillway rather than try to tear it all out in one season.

But the public can’t see the recommendations the independent board of consultants gave the Department of Water Resources to ensure the work is safe and sound.

May 5, 2017 at 3:01 AM | Unregistered Commenterclipe

Oh, and golf charlie, please refrain from using the words goolies and squeeze in the same sentence.

May 5, 2017 at 3:22 AM | Unregistered Commenterclipe

May 5, 2017 at 3:01 AM by clipe

From your link:
"“I’m going to be very up front here. It’s going to be a balancing act,” said DWR Chief Deputy Director Cindy Messer at a town hall meeting Wednesday night in Oroville."

With my emphasis:
"In February 2017, Cindy Messer was appointed as the Department of Water Resources’ Chief Deputy Director. Prior to this appointment, Cindy had been DWR’s Assistant Chief Deputy Director, serving as a subject matter expert and policy advisor to the Director and Chief Deputy Director on a broad range of issues impacting statewide water management.

Cindy was the Deputy Director of the Planning, Performance and Technology Division at the Delta Stewardship Council from 2012 until her appointment at DWR. As Deputy Director she coordinated the preparation and implementation of the Delta Plan. Prior to this position, Cindy served as the Assistant Executive Officer for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy where she provided oversight for development of the Delta Conservancy’s Interim Strategic Plan. Cindy also worked for more than 10 years in various technical and managerial roles in DWR’s Division of Environmental Services.

Cindy is a graduate of the University of California, Davis where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental Policy Analysis and Planning. She also earned a Master of Science degree in Conservation Biology from California State University, Sacramento."
DWR: Cindy Messer

No wonder the DWR were more worried about the salmon than the folks down stream. :)
MySA: Measures save young salmon after failure of Oroville Dam spillway

May 5, 2017 at 11:32 AM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Oroville – The independent board overseeing the repair of the damage main Oroville Dam spillway has recommended the state Department of Water Resources change its priorities and focus on the damaged bottom chute rather than the top.
MercuryNews: Oroville Dam: Switch in spillway repairs – starting from the bottom up, literally

May 8, 2017 at 6:00 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Robert Christopher, from your link, this final line:

"The list of potential causes of the failed spillway compiled by the forensic review team will be released next week, according to a DWR press release issued Thursday."

From the previous reports you have linked to, the spillway was destined to fail as a slipway (though not necessarily damaging the dam) from the time it was designed. The spillway was constructed as a series of paving slabs on a slope, held in place with tent pegs, albeit on a very large scale.

The spillway requires complete removal and reconstruction. It is logical to start from the bottom, and work up. It may be that the complete job can not be completed within the time available this year. It may be that funds available are insufficient this year.

The idea that "the list of potential causes..." is still open for discussion, suggests that there are still arguments about who to blame. The "scandal" in this instance, is not about imminent collapse of the dam, but who decided not to fund proper repair/replacement of the spillway, how long ago, and for how many years have budgets been spent on other less important things.

May 8, 2017 at 9:47 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

May 8, 2017 at 9:47 PM by golf charlie
"The "scandal" in this instance, is not about imminent collapse of the dam, but who decided not to fund proper repair/replacement of the spillway, how long ago, and for how many years have budgets been spent on other less important things."

We already know that there was a request twelve years ago to do some checking, and it was rejected by the authorities. Even though it does not appear to mention the main concrete spillway, only the emergency spillway, those requesting it appear to have only been interested parties, not the officials with ultimate responsibility:
More than a decade ago, federal and state officials and some of California’s largest water agencies rejected concerns that the massive earthen spillway at Oroville Dam — at risk of collapse Sunday night and prompting the evacuation of 185,000 people — could erode during heavy winter rains and cause a catastrophe.

Three environmental groups — the Friends of the River, the Sierra Club and the South Yuba Citizens League — filed a motion with the federal government on Oct. 17, 2005, as part of Oroville Dam’s relicensing process, urging federal officials to require that the dam’s emergency spillway be armored with concrete, rather than remain as an earthen hillside.
MercuryNews: Oroville Dam: Feds and state officials ignored warnings 12 years ago

If had been a software project, I would have expected someone to have done some digging and found enough to persuade those higher up the food chain to investigate further. :)

May 8, 2017 at 10:27 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

The report, addressed to Paul Dunlap, a DWR engineer, lists a total of 24 potential causes for the compromise of the spillway and four for the emergency spillway. See it in its entirety at [a pdf, dated May 5, 2017]

TheMercuryNews: Oroville Dam: Potential causes of spillway collapse released

May 11, 2017 at 10:23 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Gov. Pat Brown was the 32nd Governor of California from 1959 to 1967. He was the father of Jerry Brown, who was the 34th and is now the 39th the current Governor of California:
Historical records reveal the late Gov. Pat Brown misled voters about the cost of building the nation's tallest dam, ignored recommendations to delay construction and dismissed allegations that substandard materials were used to build the ambitious project.
Sixty years before a damaged spillway at the Oroville Dam forced thousands of people to evacuate, Brown's administration overcame labor strikes, worker deaths and other scandals to get Oroville built on time, The Sacramento Bee ( reports.
KoloTV: Gov. Pat Brown's ambitions paved way to Oroville Dam crisis

TheSacramentoBee: After decades of shattered expectations at Lake Oroville, can residents trust state?

May 15, 2017 at 10:10 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

California would be an unrecognizable 'parallel universe' without Oroville Dam


He now says that if ever the California Department of Fish and Wildlife moves that fast to evacuate a hatchery and relocate fish again, it’s time for humans in the area to flee for higher ground.

May 17, 2017 at 1:51 AM | Unregistered Commenterclipe

May 17, 2017 at 1:51 AM by clipe

You have found an interesting article!

"While some in this state want to criticize how Oroville Dam was built and the politics of the day, the option of no dam like it on the Feather River is unthinkable to how California has progressed"
You could say something similar about many magnificent engineering undertakings that were built in much more demanding conditions, such as forced labour or worse. Perhaps, only not labeled magnificent because of the manner in which they were constructed.

A Sacramento Bee article questions the “lethal arrogance” of late Gov. Pat Brown when pushing to build Oroville Dam in the 1960s.
KoloTV: Local historians say 34 men died building the dam and the surrounding infrastructure ...

Not necessarily Gov Pat Brown's fault, but there were deaths.

The lens of hindsight might be clearer, but it’s only such because we see things through the history that predecessors did not have, nor could they imagine.
KoloTV: Historical records reveal the late Gov. Pat Brown misled voters about the cost of building the nation's tallest dam, ignored recommendations to delay construction and dismissed allegations that substandard materials were used to build the ambitious project.

It's a pity that these 'uncertainties' were not investigated.

The article paints former Gov. Brown – his son is the current governor for those not familiar with California politics – as a pushy politician looking for a legacy. Sound familiar?

I am afraid it does. I think that is why the original article struck home. There is the saying, 'Start as you mean to go on', so all the problems following the construction can be lain, correctly or not, at the foot of the instigators, including the promises not kept to people who lost their home, towns and communities. And they lost their safety.

Not much appears to have changed. I originally started this thread because an expert in Climate Change, a 'distinguished professor', thought the Californian drought would be lasting for decades, centuries even, then, after the rain, much less than a year later, a 'Scientific Journal' linked the abundance of water in California to Climate Change.

The Public feel they are being short changed, yet again, and by the same players.

May 17, 2017 at 10:42 AM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher
May 26, 2017 at 2:11 AM | Unregistered Commenterclipe