As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours.
Over the last week, Murphy’s Law has been on overdrive in Northern California as Oroville dam suffered a series of mishaps, resulting from poor planning, lack of maintenance, and lack of heeding warnings years ago on the part of the state bureaucracy known as the California Department of Water Resources. The result was a badly broken regular spillway, a damaged “emergency spillway” (if you could even call it that, since they had to do emergency prep for two days to even make it usable) and finally, a several county evacuation downstream of about 180,000 people because DWR officials feared the “emergency spillway” would breach.
Given the attention paid to this worldwide, in technical parlance, it would be safe to say the DWR made a global cluster f*** out of their mismanagement of the dam. Even the White House got involved, calling the mess DWR created a “textbook example of the need for spending“.
Our local newspaper, the Enterprise Record, had a scathing editorial using less colorful wording than I have, calling it a “failure on many levels”. And, the Feds aren’t happy, and have sent them a letter demanding some immediate accountability by an independent review, something DWR isn’t used to, since they have a history of being accountable to nobody but themselves.
For example, the re-licensing process for the dam; it was started on 2002, and to be completed by 2007 but has dragged on for 15 years! It only took seven years to build the dam:
Construction was initiated in 1961, and despite numerous difficulties encountered during its construction, including multiple floods and a major train wreck on the rail line used to transport materials to the dam site, the embankment was topped out in 1967 and the entire project was ready for use in 1968.
Combined with the mismanagement under our current weather situation, it’s fair to say that DWR’s oversight of Oroville Dam is a complete and utter failure. Maintenance was deferred, warnings weren’t heeded, and there was a mindset of global warming induced “permanent drought” out of Sacramento. New dams, such as the Sites Reservoir aren’t being built, being stalled in funding, despite a doubling of Califonia’s population since 1968, and monetary focus has been on Gov. Jerry Brown’s pet boondoggles such as “Bullet Trains to Nowhere” and “Water tunnels under the Delta“. Ironically, the tunnels would rely on water from Lake Oroville, which seems to have gotten lost in political space.
People with an ounce of sense proposed killing the bullet train, and putting money towards water storage, but, sadly, it didn’t make it past the rancid political interests of Sacramento and Brown.
All of this has combined to nominate DWR is a poster child for everything that is wrong with California’s government.
So, with that in mind, we have a new challenge from mother Nature ahead: A series of 5 storms over a weeklong period that could give up to 8″ (or more) of rain in the Oroville watershed area. On the short term, NWS is forecasting the storm on Thursday could produce up to 1 to 2 inches of rain in the foothills, with more at higher elevations.
The long-term forecast has rainfall totals withing the watershed that are showing the exact spot where Lake Oroville watershed is located will get 11.62 inches of rain over the next 10 days, the most accumulated rainfall in the entire western USA:
From today’s ChicoER article, there is this quote from DWR:
In a press conference Tuesday, Department of Water Resourecs acting Director Bill Croyle said that there is room in Lake Oroville for upcoming storms and that the inflow was not expected to reach 100,000 cfs.
Given that DWR said 11 years ago that the spillway was safe in response to challenges, then last week they didn’t think there would be any problems with the storms, then kept slipping into disaster mode inch by inch, walking back all the way to “The emergency spillway might fail, therefore evacuations are needed” why should anybody believe one word these bureau-clowns utter?
I sure don’t.
UPDATE: About a half hour after publication, the missing word “spillway” was added to the headline for clarification. The dam itself is not damaged, but the dam spillway is.