#OrovilleDam: A tragedy of neglect that will no doubt happen again

Six months ago, relentless winter storms dumped nearly 13 inches of rain in four days on the Sierra Foothills, tearing an enormous hole in the spillway at Oroville Dam, the nation’s highest, and leading to an unprecedented emergency that prompted the evacuation of 188,000 people from nearby towns.

Today, what could have been ground zero for America’s worst dam disaster is now a hotbed of construction activity. Hundreds of construction workers are laboring 20 hours a day, six days a week with huge dump trucks, cranes, excavators, bulldozers, concrete pumps and other equipment to demolish and rebuild the 3,000-foot-long main spillway — a massive chute as wide as 15 lanes of freeway– by Nov. 1, before the next winter rain season begins anew.

But the crisis isn’t over. Major questions remain. And disaster could happen again.

An independent “forensics team” ordered by federal regulators to find what went wrong issued preliminary findings in May, citing defects from the dam’s construction in the 1960s to problems linked to poor maintenance and oversight by state and federal officials. Its final report is due this fall.

“It’s not that complicated,” said engineer Bob Bea, founder of UC Berkeley’s Center for Catastrophic Risk Management  “It’s a tragedy of neglect. It was poorly built and poorly maintained.”

The reality is that California leaders care more about needle exchanges for junkies and gender neutral restrooms than they care about dam safety. If you live in Oroville, you’d be smart to move to higher ground.

Source: East Bay Times


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