OAKLAND, Calif. Feb. 13, 2017—Flooding risks around Northern California’s Lake Oroville reservoir that forced mass evacuations of people living below the nation’s tallest dam in recent days are demonstrating that future infrastructure projects must be capable of withstanding similar catastrophic events, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Below is a statement by Adrienne Alvord:

The Oroville Dam crisis is dramatic evidence that California must plan for more extreme weather events when designing and building water infrastructure projects because the types of flooding that we have witnessed in recent days will become more frequent due to climate change.

As we’re witnessing now, the risks to lives and property are very real, and the costs for repairing severely damaged infrastructure are much higher than investing in resilient projects from the start. The damage to the Oroville Dam spillways is a case in point of the need for stronger design criteria. Prior warnings to make safety improvements to the dam’s structures may well have averted this crisis if they had been heeded.

Over the past year, we have worked hard to persuade the Department of Water Resources to incorporate the type of science that would help avoid these kinds of catastrophes in the future. In the end, we were baffled that an analysis of more extreme events was not required for new dam projects funded by public dollars through the California water bond.

This crisis highlights the absolute necessity for the Department of Water Resources and the California Water Commission, as they start to evaluate new water project proposals that are being funded by $2.7 billion in bond funds, to include specifications in their project proposals to handle extreme weather events like the one that led to the spillway damages. Such events are much more likely to occur as global warming intensifies.

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ first concern is for the safety of communities downstream of Oroville Dam, and we commend the rescue workers and those laboring to ensure that the dam spillway does not completely fail and create a true humanitarian catastrophe.  We will continue to work with state water officials to ensure these types of life-threatening events can be avoided in the future with water infrastructure planning that can withstand the forces unleashed by a warming planet.

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.