September 20, 2017 – California’s existing dam and flood infrastructure needs to be fixed now. The near catastrophe at Oroville Dam was a wake-up call to improve California’s dam infrastructure and flood management, according to a new report released by organizations that warned about the dam’s dangerous emergency spillway twelve years ago. The Oroville Dam 2017 Spillway Incident: Lessons from the Feather River Basin calls for more action at this and thousands of other high-hazard dams to keep water moving and people safe in a warming climate.
“20th century water infrastructure and management are failing to respond to the warming climate of the 21st century,” said Dave Steindorf of American Whitewater. “The Oroville Spillway incident dramatically exposed the need for better water management that keeps water moving and people safe.”
Oroville gained worldwide attention in February when crumbling spillways at the nation’s tallest dam triggered one of the largest evacuations in California history. The near catastrophe remains a socioeconomic blow to downstream communities. A core recommendation is the construction of a complete emergency spillway at Oroville Dam which would have prevented the near catastrophe.
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“After all that’s happened, there is still no plan to build the complete emergency spillway that we called for more than twelve years ago,” said Ron Stork of Friends of the River. “The beneficiaries of the Oroville project have a responsibility to ensure funding and construction of a spillway that will prevent erosion and undercutting of the structure that threatens downstream communities and the Feather River.”
The Oroville incident highlights the need to invest in existing water and flood infrastructure across the nation. After the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, architects and structural engineers intensely reviewed building codes and recommended whole classes of buildings for retrofitting. The report recommends a similar review of our aging water infrastructure and an integrated approach to water management to meet our water needs while ensuring public safety and healthy rivers in a changing climate.
“In addition to calling for investments in existing dam infrastructure, our report includes dozens of recommendations for operating dams more safely, implementing flood management projects that protect communities and requiring regulators to update dam safety requirements,” said Chris Shutes of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance. “It also calls for water managers to develop relationships with local communities that are founded on equality, fairness and respect.”