Oroville Dam Failing, Reality or Fear Mongering by the Press?

by Placerville Newswire / Feb 13, 2017 / comments

[PRpond, Cris Alarcon] 

"The news media are propagating fear and panic instead of informed response" wrote Robin Smithson.  

Jeanette White Eyes added, "An Engineer said to leave two days ago, more is going on here than they are letting people in on!"

What they are not telling us is that they are scared as hell that the dam may fail. A forced evacuation order of 180,000 people tells us how scared they are.

I am going to be real here. Often I temper reality to make it more "consumer friendly" but I will lay it out straight for you right here. Is a headline like the LA Times pure bullshit? [Oroville Dam spillway expected to fail] Yes it is. Is the danger much more serious than some are thinking? Yes, again the answer is yes!

-- An evacuation has been ordered for low-lying levels of Oroville and several areas downstream from Lake Oroville, the Butte County Sheriff's Office said.
-- "Officials are anticipating a failure of the Auxiliary Spillway at Oroville Dam within the next 60 minutes (5:45 p.m.)," the California Department of Water Resources said on Facebook.
-- "A hazardous situation is developing with the Oroville Dam auxiliary spillway," the sheriff's office said on its Facebook page. "Operation of the auxiliary spillway has lead to severe erosion that could (led) to a failure of the structure. Failure of the auxiliary spillway structure will result in an uncontrolled release of flood waters from Lake Oroville."

Authorities know that a Forced Evac of 180,000 people is a very serious response that always leads to loss and even deaths! The authorities have decided that taking responsibility for the loss and damages to personal and commercial property AND taking responsibility for Policing the evacuated areas is justified by the risk to human life.

This is a serious and costly response that civic and elected leaders will not take responsibility for unless the real threat to the public outweigh the cost and anger of the public by forcing a large-scale evacuation.

So we know the danger is real, but how much so? That is the real unanswerable question. The LA Times headline is crap because it says the damn is expected to fail... This means the likelihood of failure is in excess of 50% likely. That is NOT the case at this time.

As for the problem being the Spillway, not the Dam, this is correct. The amount of uncontrolled water release from that small failure is not the real concern, a larger related failure is the critical concern.

We know the Spillway is damaged and that triggered the use of the Emergency Spillway, the first time ever since it was built in the 1940's. The Emergency Spillway's use found a failure there also. We know the damage is between 0% and 50% but even the engineers on site don't know much more than that as actual damage cannot be assessed during the flooding.

So we are all guessing at the moment. In cases like this a risk assessment is performed and the risk of additional failures related to existing damage is evaluated. In a case of a leaking dam, cascading failures caused by some damage weakening other elements that then fail in line, is a natural course of concern and investigation. In this specific case, the damage at the Emergency Spillway that caused the Evac order is only a failure to that section, but just as the regular spillway damage led to discovering the Emergency spillway defect, failure at the Emergency Spillway can lead to additional damage that does threaten the entire dam structure!

Full failure is very unlikely, but in the realm of possibilities. So possible in fact, that the economic, social, and budgetary impact of a forced evacuation of 180,000 people was warranted.

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The most notable cascading structural failure [one failure, leading to another, leading to another, leading to total failure] is the total failure of the World Trade Center building after being hit by an airplane loaded with people and jet fuel.

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There will be much discussion in the coming weeks about whether more could have been done to prevent the flood panic at the Oroville Dam, which was caused when first the main spillway and then the emergency spillway suffered damage.

More than a decade ago, there was debate about whether the emergency spillway needed to be strengthened to better handle a crisis when the main spillway was damaged.

According to the Oroville Mercury-Register, environmental groups called for the emergency spillway to be lined with concrete, but officials rejected the idea.

Read some state water documents about the debate here