Lessons from Oroville

Our New Report Calls for Action to Prevent Future Tragedies in the Era of Climate Change

Source: Dale Kolke / California Department of Water Resources

California’s existing dam and flood infrastructure needs to be fixed now. Oroville Dam gained worldwide attention in February 2017 when crumbling spillways at the nation’s tallest dam triggered one of the largest evacuations in California history. This near catastrophe was a wake-up call to improve the state’s existing dam infrastructure and flood management, according to a new report released by Friends of the River, the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, the South Yuba River Citizens League, and American Whitewater.

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 the era of super storms and climate chaos. The report makes dozens of recommendations for bringing waterworks into the 21st Century in a comprehensive review of California dams, flood manuals, floodplains, and regulatory delay.

DWR still needs to build a complete emergency spillway at Oroville which would have prevented the near catastrophe. Despite all that’s happened, there is still no plan to build the complete emergency spillway that our groups called for more than twelve years ago. 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 also highlighted the need to invest in existing water and flood infrastructure across California and 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. It also calls for water managers to develop relationships with local communities that are founded on equality, fairness and respect.

Read the Executive Summary and Full Report

Twelve years ago, Friends of the River, and other groups warned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and others that the unarmored spillway at our nation’s tallest dam was a clear and present danger. They should have listened, and this time we trust they will.

Photo: Unknown/Sacramento Bee.


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Key Documents

RS bio (2017)