Oroville Dam: State and Federal Government Share Blame

Oroville Dam (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

No sooner had officials issued an emergency evacuation order for 200,000 residents living below the Oroville Dam than the political arguments began. Was it the federal government’s fault, for not being attentive enough? Or was state government to blame, for rejecting proposals to raise the dam and spending money on high-speed rail instead?

The San Jose Mercury News has an answer: both are to blame, for ignoring a warning raised in 2005 that the emergency spillway could fail in heavy rain.

The paper reported Monday:

Three environmental groups — the Friends of the River, the Sierra Club and the South Yuba Citizens League — filed a motion with the federal government on Oct. 17, 2005, as part of Oroville Dam’s relicensing process, urging federal officials to require that the dam’s emergency spillway be armored with concrete, rather than remain as an earthen hillside.

The groups filed the motion with FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They said that the dam, built and owned by the state of California, and finished in 1968, did not meet modern safety standards because in the event of extreme rain and flooding, fast-rising water would overwhelm the main concrete spillway, then flow down the emergency spillway, and that could cause heavy erosion that would create flooding for communities downstream, but also could cause a failure, known as “loss of crest control.”

FERC rejected that request, however, after the state Department of Water Resources, and the water agencies that would likely have had to pay the bill for the upgrades, said they were unnecessary.

There will be plenty of finger-pointing in the days to come. For officials dealing with an emergency situation on Sunday evening, however, it was more important to work together. For now.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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