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Oroville Dam Threatens To Collapse

Short-term thinking has put lives at risk
Monday, February 13, 2017, 7:51 AM

This is a running commentary on the rapidly developing Oroville dam situation in California. Because the story is so fluid right now, there isn’t yet time to write a complete report.

I’ll have a tidy summary at some point, but first we have to scour and assemble the information.

The reason we cover such situations in detail as they develop is because we feel we can do a better job of condensing and presenting complex and rapid information than the mainstream news. We don’t sensationalize, we strive to use grounded facts every time, and we think such situations offer a learning moment to help orient us to the realities of the world in which we live, as well as how we should think about preparing and being prepared.

The bottom line is that the US has many poorly-maintained dams, bridges, water works and other key infrastructure. Even worse, we’ve built many of these structures using a form of concrete with re-bar for tensile reinforcement that will necessitate virtually 100% replacement of all concrete structures within 40 to 100 years of being built.  Here's a previous report I wrote explaining this concrete situation in more detail.

So in this respect, the Oroville dam is a signpost for past shortsighted decision-making that will ultimately require very large sums of money for future maintenance and repair. Expect to see an increasing number of emergency failure threats like this appear in the years to come.


February 12th 2017 --9:11 p.m.  (post #1)

This is a pretty shocking development. I'd been somewhat enjoying watching the spillway disgorge huge amounts of water, but apparently things took a turn for the worse.

THOUSANDS ORDERED TO EVACUATE AFTER OROVILLE DAM PREDICTED TO FAIL

OROVILLE, Calif. -- Officials have ordered thousands of residents near the Oroville Dam to evacuate the area, saying a "hazardous situation is developing" after an emergency spillway severely eroded.

The Butte County Sheriff's Office says the emergency spillway could fail within an hour unleashing uncontrolled flood waters from Lake Oroville.

The department says people in downstream areas need to leave the area immediately. It says residents of Oroville, a town of 16,000 people, should head north toward Chico and that other cities should follow orders from their local law enforcement agencies.

A major dam failure is a very rare, and possibly symbolic thing to occur at this time.  Very much not "first world."


Sun, Feb 12, 2017 - 9:41pm

This was a very good piece of reporting by a private citizen...much better than Da Newz...which presumably didn't want to overly concern anyone...or something.

At any rate, another great reason to keep your go bags organized, even if that means having your most important affairs in one place where you can get to them quickly.

The major issue is that the Oroville dam has too much water behind it.  There are only three 'approved' ways for it to be released.  I've pulled these three images from the above video.

1) is the hydro plant at the base of the dam.  That has been shut down because of some sort of problem.

2) Is the concrete spillway.  That is severely compromised (see pictures below) and is in danger of failing.

3) Is the emergency spillway.  The problem there is that the water got high enough that it took an unapproved route there too...the unreinforced parking area is now spilling water.  

There are no good choices left for releasing additional water.   So the spillway may fail and the first, large modern dam in US history could fail.  Wild.

Here's the damage to the spillway that was there before the additional releases had to happen...they had noticed an already weak spot in the spillway was being badly eroded, stopped the flow briefly, and found this:

And in this next photo you can clearly see what happened when they had to continue releasing via the spillway to avoid losing the entire emergency spillway which was also being eroded badly at the base.

Oops. No good choices left here.

You can clearly see that the emergency spillway is eating its way up towards the earth that is holding the water in the dam back.  Bad choice.

But the emergency spillway is eroding badly both at the parking lot end and the far right side where emergency concrete was poured at the base of the emergency spillway just a day or two before the water topped it.


Sun, Feb 12, 2017 - 10:03pm

NBC now reporting that the spillway has failed.  I have not confirmed this via a second source yet.

This is not the same thing as the dam failing...but it's a step closer to that.

Hopefully the bedrock stops the process before failure. 

Here's the best (jargony, but seemingly knowledgeable and factual) account I've come across so far:

I have heard that the emergency spillway is eroding through cutback. This will be an evolutionary erosive failure. It will take some time for the cut back. Hopefully the erosion will be stopped at bedrock.

However, I fear that if the erosion of the emergency spillway, on the canted bedrock of the abutment communicates with the hydraulics of the principal spillway, this may result in a V notch failure.

This would be the most serious type of failure. I believe there to be a good chance of a loss of the gate structure on the left (facing downstream). I expect loss of rock and perhaps some of the weir of the emergency spillway.

The training wall between the emergency and the principal spillway is a likely place for failure of structure. I understand that significant releases, which will be uncontrolled will take place, the possibility of this becoming very serious does, indeed exist. I am sorry with all of my heart that this is taking place. This is one time that I want so deeply to be wrong. All of my best wishes are with you tonight.

Scott Cahill (update 1)

As I write the Oroville dam in California is eroding back toward a breach of the reservoir. I am a dam contractor. If you ever heard someone say "that dam contractor.." they may have been talking about me.

I have repaired hundreds of dams including ones like Oroville, which were in the process of failure. I know a lot about dams.

The spillway failure is a common type of failure, where phreatic, or surface water entered the spillway, migrating beneath the slabs. (A static element on a dynamic element, A hard element on a live element). The dam is hydrated and dehydrated as water levels rise and fall, moving, as soils swell from pressures and water mass. In times of high rain the phreatic surface (hydrated soils line) moves toward the surface, venting into the void so produced.

This creates a void. Moving water over the years has eroded soils from beneath the slab downstream and left a channel. Now, the spillway has been actuated in a high-flow event and the plates of the spillway have failed into the stream, scouring from beneath them. They will continue to fail as the water continues to flow. The hydraulic jump exacerbates this erosion.

If the flow continues for a long enough time, with sufficient velocity, the reservoir will be voided by the migration of the erosion to the pool (cut-back). I cannot tell if failure is imminent, from Ohio, but it is an unacceptable situation that has been allowed to develop. It is a case of pennies pinched producing dollars spent, perhaps tragedy.

What we can learn as a nation is the information that is being disseminated. Words chosen carefully, to not excite, to not scare. The issue, as it now stands is serious, life-threatening even. The officials, the owners reps, the media will tell us now, that there is nothing to be be frightened about - all under control (remember Katrina??).

We have, for so long, ignored the failing infrastructure of this great nation, Let us hope that a fatal failure is not necessary to get us to act. Past experience does not make me hopeful of that.

Oroville is 770' high, 6,920' long. It is one of the 20 largest dams in the world. If Oroville breaks, The city will be flooded.

Eight thousand three hundred and seventy five residents are at risk within the inundation zone. Two hundred thirty critical facilities in the city of Oroville are within the inundation zone, including; Eleven schools, twenty one day care and children service centers, fourteen elder care facilities, twenty six bridges will be lost, the airport, two fire stations, the government administration building, three law enforcement stations, the EMERGENCY OPERATIONS CENTER (brilliant) Two waste water treatment plants, the jail, and the Hospital. (from the City of Oroville local hazard mitigation plan update May, 2013)

We are not talking about a river rising, where people have time to evacuate. We are talking about a wall of debris, mud, and water taking out a city, buildings, roads, bridges, life, in a horrible instant.

When will we, at last mandate proper maintenance and inspection of these high hazard and medium hazard dams? Why are we willing to suffer a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars to save a couple of dollars on proper and responsible dam safety and repairs?

Whatever you may hear, this is a significant event which could be horrible in its scope and its magnitude. Let us pray that it does not breach, and let us hope that, at last people are sufficiently concerned to act.

Scott Cahill (original) (Source)


Mon, Feb 13, 2017 - 6:47am

Here's the latest on the storms that are due to arrive with more rain for the Oroville catchment system:

DWR needs to lower the lake level by another 50 feet to prepare for the incoming storms.

They've got just a couple of days to do this.

I am not at all clear on how much water was arriving vs. leaving between the 11th and 12th, but it took almost exactly one day to reduce the level by 1 foot:

(Source)

If I lived anywhere downstream of that dam in a low lying spot I would be clearing out all of my stuff that I cared about.  

And, right now, I'd be driving very far away so I could find reasonable long-term living arrangements...I bet this isn't resolved for quite some time.  A week minimum, until they safely get past the rains and feel confident about the dam structure.  But possibly a lot longer (and that's assuming no "uncontrolled release" situation).


Mon, Feb 13, 2017 - 7:21am

rhare wrote:

cmartenson wrote:

So the spillway may fail and the first, large modern dam in US history could fail.  

Not the first, depending on your definition of modern wink

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teton_Dam

You are right...I'll count that as a modern, major dam.  What a mess that was too.  

I loved these parts from the wiki article you linked, because I bet both dams will share this precise feature:

In 1973, when the dam was only half-built, but almost $5 million had already been spent on the project, large open fissures were encountered during excavation of the key trench near the right end of the dam, about 700 feet (210 m) from the canyon wall.

The two largest, near-vertical fissures trend generally east-west and extend more than 100 feet (30 m) below the bottom of the key trench. Some of the fissures are lined by calcite, and rubble fills others. Several voids, as much as 6 inches (15 cm) wide, were encountered 60 to 85 feet (18 to 26 m) below the ground surface beyond the right end of the dam and grout curtain.

The largest fissures were actually enterable caves. One of them was eleven feet (3.4 m) wide and a hundred feet (30 m) long. Another one was nine feet (2.7 m) wide in places and 190 feet (60 m) long. These were not grouted because they were beyond the keyway trench and beyond the area where the Bureau had decided grouting was required.

This necessitated using twice as much grouting as had been originally anticipated – 118,000 linear feet were used in total. Later, the report of a committee of the House of Representatives which investigated the dam's collapse felt that the discovery of the caves should have been sufficient for the Bureau of Reclamation to doubt its ability to fill them in with grout, but this did not happen: the Bureau continued to insist, even after the dam had failed, that the grouting was appropriate.

After the dam's collapse, debris clean-up began immediately and took the remainder of the summer. Rebuilding of damaged property continued for several years. Within a week after the disaster, President Gerald Ford requested a $200 million appropriation for initial payments for damages, without assigning responsibility for Teton Dam’s failure.

Yep, wouldn't want anyone from government being held responsible now would we?  You know accountability?  That's just for citizens, I guess.

Try having even a slight error on your tax forms during an audit, and you'll find out exactly how lenient the government can(not) be.  :)

The shared feature on the Oroville and Teton dams will be a complete lack of assigned blame.  Plus poor construction/maintenance.


Monday, Feb 13th - 8:09 a.m.

The water is now apparently 2.5 feet below the emergency spillway level.  This is a good sign.  Water is dropping much more quickly now, so the inflows must be receding.

Now it's a race against the arrival of the next storms


Monday, Feb 13th - 9:37 a.m.

Speaking of the rainfall, here's the weather service's seven day forecast...andother 4 to 7 inches in the region(!).


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89 Comments

peterkuykendall's picture
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Power pole base erosion

This appears to be one of the towers that has prompted the relocation of the transmission line.  The erosion around the feet is clearly visible.

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mystar's picture
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Oroville resident

OMG!!

This is my town, lived here all my life.  We never got much from having the Dam over our heads except when Dam comes up for re-licencing, then Oroville tries to get some $ for Environmental and recreational /park projects.  We had some very nice parks all along the Feather River; nice fish hatchery, Athletic fields.. All are wiped out now. Levies are breaking and orchards flooded.  Fish and wildlife destroyed.   People are upset and resentful due to the terrible losses, and distrust of authorities due to feeling we are not being told the truth about what is going on and what may happen in the coming week. 

At least our bags are packed now.  Better than sitting in the restaurant, hearing the sirens go off and an evacuation order to immediately run for your life.  Folks dropped their fork, left plates of food uneaten, jumped in the car and TRIED to leave town.  But then had to stress out wondering if a wall of water was going to materialize in their rear view mirrors while hopelessly stuck in traffic for hours trying to get out of the flood zone with 200,000 other people on the roads.

Yup, Fun Times in Oroville.  My town will never be the same again.

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peterkuykendall
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"Not sure anything went wrong" - DWR acting director Croyle !!!

Yes he really said this at the press conference on Feb 13, after both spillways had sustained massive erosion and, in the case of the main spillway, massive structural damage as well.

Video link is here.  He starts speaking at 3:48.  Remarks regarding the erosion, including "I'm not sure anything went wrong", start at 8:10.

That is followed immediately by a question regarding the 2005 relicensing concern about the lack of concrete below the auxiliary spillway.  He said he was unfamiliar with "that documentation or conversation"! angry

You can sleep well at night, the dam is in competent hands, and they are telling nothing but the truth.wink

 

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peterkuykendall
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Dischange slowed 30%

Saying the reservoir has receded enough to handle inflows from approaching storms, operators at troubled Oroville Dam said Friday they would continue to dial back releases from its cracked main spillway in hopes of easing pressure on the Feather River and levees downstream.

-----------------

In addition to relieving pressure on downstream channels, DWR is hoping that dialing back the punishing flows on the damaged main spillway will allow cranes and barges to safely operate in the channel below. The aim is to start digging out a massive pile of concrete, trees and other debris that has accumulated in the channel since the main spillway fractured. The debris has clogged the channel below the dam, raising water levels to the point that its power plant – the dam’s primary release outlet outside of flood season – can’t operate.

(source)

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Re: discharge slowed
peterkuykendall wrote:

Saying the reservoir has receded enough to handle inflows from approaching storms, operators at troubled Oroville Dam said Friday they would continue to dial back releases from its cracked main spillway in hopes of easing pressure on the Feather River and levees downstream.

 

About those slowing flows...I'm wondering if it's that as the water level gets closer to the spillway finally elevation if the water pressure has not reduced enough to slow the flow?

Less 'head' and less pressure = lower flow?

 

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Who Will Be Blamed if the Oroville Dam Fails?

https://mises.org/blog/who-will-be-blamed-if-oroville-dam-fails

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Looks Under Human Control
cmartenson wrote:

About those slowing flows...I'm wondering if it's that as the water level gets closer to the spillway finally elevation if the water pressure has not reduced enough to slow the flow?

Less 'head' and less pressure = lower flow?

Chris,

If that were the case, the discharge flow rates would be smoother rather than stair stepped as shown in the graph in post #55. It looks like it is being controlled by opening/closing the spillway gates. I question the precision that their outflow numbers imply. 69854.0 implies that their margin of error is less than 0.1 CFS (about a gallon per second.)

Grover

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Problems Everywhere

Hearing reports of other dams beginning to experience pressure. There are numerous reports of flooding, power outages, sinkholes, mudslides, and trees down throughout the state.  Looks like several more storms are still on tap before they get a break.  This would be a really bad time for a strong quake out there.

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rhare, no offence
I wrote:

For what it's worth, I'm a  retired safety engineer. OSHA is necessary.; there are employers who would put their workers at extreme risk.  And the regulations go through a review process where industry weighs in. 

You disagreed, but you did not spend you career trying to protect people from criminally negligent employers. I ran a home improvements business before that, and now I am a small business owner, doing profitability consulting. So I see this from both sides.

Of course OSHA does not get to be one of your categories. It's obviously not the employee, the employee, or the consumer. But then neither are the police. I'm not so libertarian that I think we need no government, nor am I so conservative that I think the market does not need regulated. So it is, here. 

Every last one of the OSHA regulations was written in someone's blood. 

The marketplace does have a place in this process beyond review of regulations: you keep hurting or killing your employees and your worker's compensation insurance rates or lawsuits will put you out of business. But really, the review process kills all manner of stupid ideas. The six-month comment period for new OSHA regs allows vigorous discussions from affected industries as well as safety engineers. The bullsh*t regulations that still make it through this process get tossed by the courts. 

How does all this apply to the situation at Oroville? Maybe some sort of oversight is needed to see that Federal funds meant for maintenance of structures like the dam get used for that purpose. Make THAT a regulation under, oh, I don't know..the Department of Energy or Fish & Wildlife - I don't care who. Then give the regulations teeth. People's lives are at stake. 

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Now down to 55,000 CFS

(source) They continue to step it down.

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Cold Rain wrote: Hearing
Cold Rain wrote:

Hearing reports of other dams beginning to experience pressure. There are numerous reports of flooding, power outages, sinkholes, mudslides, and trees down throughout the state.  Looks like several more storms are still on tap before they get a break.  This would be a really bad time for a strong quake out there.

Current conditions (source)

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Wendy you missed the point.

You may think these regulations are great and that's a choice you have to make.  The point was you need to understand that you are using violence against others to enforce your choices.  You can wrap it in as much "save the children" propaganda as you want, but ultimately, all of these regulations are enforced by men with guns. All of us need to understand that fact.

Now, you may make the choice to says it's worth it, but I would say if you are not personally willing to use violence against another for these regulations, then you shouldn't be asking someone else to use violence for you.  Understanding this make you much more likely to work things out in a voluntary manner.  To promote community and good behavior by example, communication, non violent methods such as supporting those businesses that do it right.

Wendy S. Delmater wrote:

Every last one of the OSHA regulations was written in someone's blood. 

Lots of things in life are.  People make stupid decisions and it kills sometimes.  That's learning.  But it I would counter that a best practices documents are just as effective as these regulations.  Business owners don't want employees to get hurt, it makes it harder to recruit labor, it makes it expensive if you want to carry insurance (voluntary - not the force by the state "unemployment insurance"), and results in worker turnover which is terribly unproductive.  

I would also argue that these regulations often have the opposite effect.  As a business owner I get to do the bare minimum because I'm protected by claiming I did all that was required rather than what might be right or better. I get to push off responsibility to someone else, which is also a side effect.

Then on top of it, you have the fact that regulations don't stop bad actions. Just look at all the laws and regulations against murder, theft, fraud, yet we still have all those things. The places that have some of the strongest laws have them the worst.   The state does not improve things but it sure does spend a lot of resources making us think it does.

This dam is a prime example, there are tons of regulations regarding how dams are built, how they are supposed to be maintained, etc, yet here we are and we are going to get to see no one held responsible.  Are we going to see all those managers, bureaucrats, and politicians held responsible?  How about the safety inspectors who didn't do their job and prevent this, are they all going to prison?  They certainly took a lot of taxpayer money and I would say have committed fraud.

Wendy S. Delmater wrote:

 Then give the regulations teeth. People's lives are at stake. 

I agree, so here is another way to look at it.  In the OSHA case, you think they should take money from all of us (via taxation).  So in return do we get to hold OSHA responsible?  If an OSHA inspector inspects a business and then that business does something wrong, do we get to hold the OSHA inspector responsible?  If not, why not?  If you promote stealing from me against my will and claiming you are going to save me, I think I should get to hold you responsible.

 

 
Or how about we stop stealing from people to build projects like this.  It might not have ever been built because it's easy to do unsustainable, bad things when it's other peoples money.  At least if was a private entity we would have someone to criminally charge.  Someone who was directly responsible that would pay.  At most we will see some low level flunky get fired and a huge tax increase to deal with this mess.  No lessons will be learned.

 

rhare's picture
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Waiter - can I have different conversation?
Wendy S. Delmater wrote:

How does all this apply to the situation at Oroville? Maybe some sort of oversight is needed to see that Federal funds meant for maintenance of structures like the dam get used for that purpose. Make THAT a regulation under, oh, I don't know..the Department of Energy or Fish & Wildlife - I don't care who. Then give the regulations teeth.

From Mises article linked by richcabot wrote:

As The Mercury News has reported, 12 years ago, both California and federal officials refused to consider a demand that California heighten precautions and maintenance standards at the Oroville Dam. In response to the demands, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) said the dam's emergency features were perfectly fine and that the emergency spillway "was designed to handle 350,000 cubic feet per second and the concerns were overblown."

So it turns out  FERC was regulating it.  Not exactly wanting me to continue more of the same.  Why I bring up these topics, it's time to at least start having a different conversation.

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Oroville crime report

http://www.shtfplan.com/headline-news/a-rundown-of-all-the-people-who-took-advantage-of-their-neighbors-during-the-oroville-evacuation_02192017

There’s a lot to worry about when a disaster strikes your community. You have to make sure that your friends and neighbors are going to be okay. You have to make sure that you have plenty of food, water, and medical supplies. You may even have to prepare to evacuate your home and leave most of your valuables behind. And while you’re focused on making sure that you and your loved ones are prepared to ride out that disaster, you can rest assured that there will always be some predatory person in your community who is preparing to take advantage of your situation.

That’s the ugly truth about disasters, natural and man-made, that everyone needs to understand. When everyone else is panicking or gathering supplies or hunkering down or running away, there’s always someone watching the chaos and thinking “there’s an opportunity for me here.”

And that’s a pretty good lesson to be learned from the Oroville evacuation that occurred last week. While every sane person was fleeing the city, a few were busy screwing over their neighbors. Most notably, a 33-year-old man was severely injured after his truck was hijacked at gunpoint.

Authorities are looking for two people accused of carjacking and running over a man preparing to flee from Oroville when authorities ordered nearly 200,000 people to evacuate.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea says the victim was loading his vehicle with the engine running when a man and woman armed with a shotgun jumped in, running him over as he attempted to stop them.

Honea says the victim was flown to a hospital with serious injuries. Authorities said they are seeking 27-year-old Cody Bowles and 31-year-old Lucia Ripley...

According to the Oroville Mercury register, there were multiple looting incidents which have led to the arrests of five different people. Several hours after the evacuation order was given, two people were arrested for breaking into a Dollar General store. Another two individuals were arrested for looting a local market, one of whom was a 16-year-old carrying a shotgun. A fifth individual was arrested after he tried to steal a gun safe from a residence, and drive off with it in a four wheeler. During the evacuation there were a total of 240 911 calls, many of which were for crimes in progress.

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Government severely misjudged strength of Oroville emergency

Government severely misjudged strength of Oroville emergency spillway, sparking a crisis

“There is no way to rationalize running water down a hillslope with deep soils and a forest on it and weak bedrock,” said Jeffrey Mount, a UC Davis emeritus professor of geology and expert on California water.

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Don Pedro

Pretty, thanks for the map/data re: lake levels.  Don Pedro looks full!

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Financial plays on the possible Oroville failure

I've been talking with a friend who used to run a hedge fund.  He's well connected in that world.  I asked him who would be the winners and losers, and how to play this out financially.  It's possible that there's money to be made here because the risk may not be priced in.  As hard as it is to believe, some people trust the government that all will be OK.

Here's what I came up with and his responses.  Please contribute your thoughts and suggestions.  Somebody is going to make a ton of money when this thing fails, it might as well be us.

  • Insurance companies

Clearly there will be tremendous losses when properties get flooded. This may be a shorting opportunity.

Matt: Find a California-only insurer, that way they don't have the benefit of a national risk pool, as State Farm does.  Don't pick the biggest or stongest one, you want a 3rd tier company, one that's not well positioned to survive a big hit.

  • REITs that own safe apartment buildings

Matt: Every apartment within 20 miles of the flood zone will be immediately filled with displaced residents.  Rents will go up shaply, but only as leases expire.  This is typically a 1 year term, but people's leases expire every month.  Therefore it will take a year to fully incorporate the new high rent rates, but it will start happening immediately and continuously until all of the old leases are renewed at the higher rates.

  • Replacement power producers

Matt: California routinely cheats on their own emissions standards.  The 819 MW (1,490 GWH annually (source)) will be replaced by burning natural gas, very likely in-state due to the cheating.  If they adhered to their CO2 rules they would import the power from Arizona and Nevada, but that likely won't happen.

  • Agriculture

As with the prior 4 years of drought, there will be haves and have-nots.  The have nots (junior water rights holders) will get nothing, going bankrupt.  The haves (senior water rights holders) will enjoy much higher crop prices with relatively stable costs, because they continue to give away the remaining water far below free market prices.  My brother who lives in Hanford (south of Fresno) says that the Oroville water supplies farmers further south.  He is looking into who will be the winners and losers when the Oroville water goes offline.

  • What else?
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Storage change graph

Net inflow minus net outflow. (source) You can see the rate of reduction slowing as the discharge is slowed over the last few days, along with recent rain.

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Finally, intelligent discussion of Oroville. Thank you.

Finally, some intelligent discussion of the Oroville Dam crisis. Instead of  the moronic blame-it-on-Mexicans nonsense going around. The engineering discussion is great. Thank you. As an aviator I can relate to the cranky pessimist approach to risk that was spoken of. I don't like flying with overly optimistic pilots : -)  "The history of aviation safety is written in blood" is one of our sayings too. (I saw it stated in the context of this topic earlier.)

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We Have Dodged A Very Serious And Big Bullet

Juan Browne puts out a very low budget update of Oroville dam conditions daily. He combines older video and current website screen shots with his commentary. He has a good pulse of the problems being faced. This video is just under 8 1/2 minutes and well worth the time to watch. He says he will get Press credentials soon and be able to get access to the dam and authorities. I certainly hope so!

Grover

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Oroville Dam Main Spillway Video from today

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Re: Oroville Dam Main Spillway Video from today

Sand Puppy - as I look at that video I notice two things:

 

  1. The water is muddier than before.  Less clear...yellowed...so there seems to be continued or renewed erosion?
  2. The gap that water chewed looks a LOT larger.  

That's going to be a very big hole to fill!

But the unclear water worries me the most.  I wonder if the reduced spillway volumes were due to bets being  hedged?  

Maybe fingers crossed for less rain, while trying to slow some new erosion that was worrying?

Just guessing here...

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Fascinating and disturbing

Note that almost none of the water is making it all the way down the spillway.  The vast majority is going out the breach on the south side, across the eroded hillside, down to the river below.  Also you can see yellow material in the water cascade, indicating further erosion.

According to the DWR realtime Oroville dam data page, the main spillway is still flowing at 55,000 CFS, the same as it has been doing for about 24 hours now.

The beeping is good, that indicates that equipment is working at the base (camera vantage point), presumably to clear the debris so they can restart the power plant and avert any flood damage to same from an overly high water level in the tail race.

Hopefully once they get the power plant going again they can resume the 100,000 CFS flow down the main spillway, on the assumption that it's eroded everything that can be eroded at that flow rate (but the yellow water belies that).  That would get the lake down to the level of the main spillway intake quickly (813.6').  From there the power plant can drain 14,000 CFS and make 819 MW.  That will allow the lake to be drained as much as possible before the next big rains and / or snow melt hit and refill it.

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Grover wrote: Juan Browne
Grover wrote:

Juan Browne puts out a very low budget update of Oroville dam conditions daily. He combines older video and current website screen shots with his commentary. He has a good pulse of the problems being faced. This video is just under 8 1/2 minutes and well worth the time to watch. He says he will get Press credentials soon and be able to get access to the dam and authorities. I certainly hope so!

Grover

That's excellent, thanks very much for posting it.

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Underrated risk root cause - fraud

Part of my job is threat modeling & risk analysis.  For many years I've been noodling around with the idea that any big, capital-intensive project carries with it a unique risk, that of fraud.  I believe that's virtually ignored, overlooked, or at minimum heavily discounted when risk assessments are performed.

For example, at Oroville the cost of mitigating the risk of either spillway was large, so the incentive to cover it up, ignore it, downplay it, etc. was big.  The risk therefore persisted.

At Fukushima, the same thing happened.  The risk was that the spent fuel rods absolutely had to be kept submerged, yet they were stored far above ground, where a leak would leave them uncovered.  By contrast, the diesel emergency generators absolutely had to be kept dry, yet they were positioned at the lowest point, susceptible to flooding.  The cost of mitigating these risks was high, both in dollars and reputation damage, so they persisted.

I believe that this is something that needs to be discussed among all interested stakeholders and added to the formal risk assessment protocols.  Has anybody heard of any efforts in this direction?

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Cautiously Optimistic

Water behaves in weird ways sometimes. By reducing the flow, the water velocity also gets reduced. As a result, the water falls will impact the rocks in the breached spillway area in a slightly different location. The bedrock experiences a different force profile. It doesn't surprise me that there is more temporary erosion. The water is running yellow rather than chunky brown. Although not good, it ain't bad either.

As I understand it, the goal is to get the reservoir down to 850'. That gives them freeboard of 50' for flood water storage. Once they're down to that level, they will need to adjust the outflow to match the inflow. That may be why they've reduced the spillway flow over time. Once they've reached their goal, they may reduce flow drastically to give equipment access to clean up the debris in the river channel. They may even cut off the spillway completely to get a look at the spillway breach and ascertain the likely damage that more than 100K CFS flows would cause.

We'll wait and see.

Grover

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"Thars Gold in them thar hills!!!"

Saddle up buckaroos before the new nation on the west coast no longer issues visas to non-citizen gold prospectors (i.e. y'all from the other 49 states, or is it 54, I can't recall).

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interesting spillway designs

When looking at spillway designs my husband and I ran across the work of Viktor Schauberger. The man is not an ace at everything, has a bit of cult following, and much of what he suggests is not verifiable but modern engineers still use some of his designs. (The guy was involved in the 3rd Reich so, not real popular but some--only some--of the science seems sound.) He also designed log flumes based on the principle that water tends to make vortices due to the shear force cause by the differences in flow velocities and directions... caused by temperature, friction, and pressure.

The basic concept is that you put something down the center of the spillway to minimize or eliminate cavitation to lessen stress on the spillway. 

That spillway design is interesting, and patented. http://www.rexresearch.com/schaub/schaub.htm

A design-in-use  based on one of his concepts. hyperbolic funnels, can be seen here http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/02/18/glory-glory-water-spills-into-glory-hole-at-lake-berryessa/

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14 up-close photos show how work is going at Lake Oroville
 

 

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Juan Browne video update Feb 21

The debris at the base of the main spillway has formed a dam that has raised the level of the water below the power plant outlet by about 20 feet.  That's driving the need to clear the debris to enable restart of the power plant and outflow of 14,000 CFS via that path.

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Unsung Reporters

Peter,

Thanks for posting that video. Why is it that a one man organization can transmit such in-depth and understandable coverage of the problems facing Oroville dam ... while all the news agencies produce such worthless drivel? That's why I don't waste my time following MSM news. Give me a story by Juan Browne any day.

Grover

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Interesting Article on Atmospheric Rivers

I just found this interesting article on atmospheric rivers.

 

This is also worrisome, since reconstructions of historic flood events —like the Great Flood of 1862 — as well as a simulation of what would be a devastating flood both involved many weak to moderate atmospheric river events hitting in rapid succession; the same thing that's happening now. 

Noah Diffenbough, a climate scientist at Stanford University, says California's wet winter demonstrates how we're already hitting the limits of water infrastructure that was designed in a completely different climate.

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Yesterday's Juan Browne Fix

Juan Browne update video for 2/22/2017. This one is only 4 minutes long. He shows that Lake Oroville's inflows and outflows are about matched. The reservoir water surface elevation is remaining around 853'. He also talks about other reservoirs upstream of Oroville. Essentially, he just pointed them out and said that they are used primarily to produce electricity - not for water storage. None of these dams/reservoirs are showing any problems.

Grover

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Finally, Some Good News

Here is Juan Browne's latest video dated 2/27/2017. The weather is finally cooperating. It looks like 7 days of dry weather is ahead. The reservoir elevation is down to ~ 838' which gives them at least 60' of storage. So, they're going to shut of the spillway and excavate the debris (from the blown out spillway) so the tail water to the power plant can be lowered. After the new power lines are installed, the power plant can be operated again.

Grover

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Damage, design flaws in spillway point to lengthy repairs

http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/article140390898.html

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Location, Location, Location

Here's a 5 minute (silent) video showing computer simulations of dam breaches on flooding extents downstream of the Oroville Dam. There were evaluations of a complete collapse and 2 partial collapses. The flooding in the central valley varies considerably. This technology should be available to every dam operator. If I lived downstream of a dam, I'd want to see similar simulations to see how bad it needs to get before it directly impacts me. (I wonder if nuclear power plant operators do similar computer simulations.)

Grover

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Spillway Repair Concept Announced

Here is the latest 15 minute video from Juan Browne (on the Blancolirio channel.) The DWR has announced their plans to rebuild the spillway. (un)Surprisingly, the new design is quite a bit like the old design. They will rebuild the entire spillway to modern standards. The upper portion will be given top priority. They plan to fill the part of the newly formed canyon under the spillway with roller compacted concrete (RCC.) Because of time limits, they want to have enough capacity in the spillway to handle 100,000 CFS by November 2017. Next year, they will build side walls higher so that it will ultimately be able to carry 270,000 CFS.

DWR preselected 4 construction companies to submit bids for their designs. The deadline for bids is next week (4/12/2017.) One of the bids will be selected by 4/18/2017 and a notice to proceed will be given shortly thereafter. Of course, the best laid plans are still subject to the weather and snow melt. DWR is currently expecting 2 more events where the busted spillway will be used this spring.

DWR will also reinforce the emergency spillway. They presented conceptual designs, but haven't determined the extent of each feature yet. That may be part of the contractor's bidding process to submit final proposals. The goal is never to need to use the emergency spillway; however, it needs to be ready - just in case.

As of this posting (4/8/2017 10:00 AM PDT,) the reservoir was at 851.60' elevation with a strong storm in place. Juan expects about 4" of water in the high country. A few more of these would throw a monkey wrench in the works. I hope their contingency plans are robust enough to handle potential changes.

Grover

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Duplicate

I really hate Mollom (the spam gate.)

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