Oroville dam (2014). Credit: Ray Bouknight.

As climate change progresses, expect many more Oroville Dam disasters.

"The situation at Oroville Dam comes as much of California is suffering from climate whiplash," following a rapid switch from drought to record-breaking precipitation.

That kind of extreme weather is closely linked with climate change. Moreover, dams like Oroville are generally calibrated to withstand only historic levels of precipatation. With climate change expected to yield new record highs, that assumption looks deadly

Feb 14, 2017

Oroville Dam and America's water infrastructure, by the numbers

4,000: Parties with major water rights in California, where a thorny gridlock presides over the state's water supply.

$20 billion: Value of commerce passing through chokepoint Lock and Dam 52 on the Ohio River, which takes 15-20 hours to pass due to underinvestment

180,000: Evacuees on tenterhooks waiting to see if their homes will be destroyed by dam failure in Oroville.

120: Dogs registered at the Chico Red Cross.

50: Feet the lake behind the dam rose in a matter of days before the spillover.

8 million: Salmon that live in Lake Oroville, comprising 30% of the state's $4 billion salmon stock

1/3: Americans who may lose access to affordable water if price increases continue for five years.

D: Grade from American Society of Civil Engineers given to America's water infrastructure.

Feb 14, 2017

Nature discovers the errors in your design pretty quickly. And that's basically what happened.

Brief but terrifying radio interview with a civil engineer about Oroville Dam.
↩︎ NPR
Feb 14, 2017

Oroville presents ambiguous evidence for dam advocates and opponents.

California dam politics are darn contentious. For example, environmentalists have been fighting for decades to dismantle the Hetch-Hetchy Reservoir, created when a valley adjacent to Yosemite–and allegedly as beautiful–was flooded and dammed to provide water for San Francisco.

The basic argument is that most of the nation's dams are extraneous and outdated, artifacts of a bygone age that almost inevitably destroy river ecosystems. Plenty of people will see Oroville as evidence that dams are ticking time bombs, capable of frightening catastrophe upon failure.

But others will take the opposite tack, arguing that Northern California needs more dams, not fewer, to deal with the conversion of its water sources from snowpack to rainfall in a warming climate.

Feb 14, 2017
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