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  • Podcast

    Expert: What You Need To Know About The Oroville Dam Crisis

    And why our entire national dam system is as vulnerable
    by Adam Taggart

    Tuesday, February 14, 2017, 1:06 AM

To make sense of the fast-developing situation at California's Oroville Dam, Chris spoke today with Scott Cahill, an expert with 40 years of experience on large construction and development projects on hundreds of dams, many of them earthen embankment ones like the dam at Oroville. Scott has authored numerous white papers on dam management, he's a FEMA trainer for dam safety, and is the current owner of Watershed Services of Ohio which specializes in dam projects across the eastern US. Suffice it to say, he knows his "dam" stuff.

Scott and Chris talk about the physics behind the failing spillways at Oroville, as well as the probability of a wider-scale failure from here as days of rain return to California.

Sadly, Scott explains how this crisis was easily avoidable. The points of failure in Oroville's infrastructure were identified many years ago, and the cost of making the needed repairs was quite small — around $6 million. But for short-sighted reasons, the repairs were not funded; and now the bill to fix the resultant damage will likely be on the order of magnitude of over $200 million. Which does not factor in the environmental carnage being caused by flooding downstream ecosystems with high-sediment water or the costs involved with evacuating the 200,000 residents living nearby the dam.

Oh, and of course, these projected costs will skyrocket higher should a catastrophic failure occur; which can't be lightly dismissed at this point.

Scott explains to Chris how this crisis is indicative of the neglect rampant across the entire US national dam system. Oroville is one of the best-managed and maintained dams in the country. If it still suffered from too much deferred maintenance, imagine how vulnerable the country's thousands and thousands of smaller dams are. Trillions of dollars are needed to bring our national dams up to satisfactory status. How much else is needed for the country's roads, railsystems, waterworks, power grids, etc?

Both Chris and Scott agree that individuals need to shoulder more personal responsibility for their safety than the government advises, as — let's face it — the government rarely admits there's a problem until it's an emergency. Katrina, Fukushima, Oroville — we need to critically parse the information being given to us when the government and media say 'it's all under control', as well as have emergency preparations already in place should swift action be necessary.

Click the play button below to listen to Chris' interview with Scott Cahill (47m:13s).

Transcript

Announcer: Welcome to crash concepts, where the economy, the energy and the environment are explored. Up next, fresh ideas and insights into the factors that are driving the world and shaping your future. Presenting information you can’t afford to live without, here’s Chris Martenson.

Chris Martenson: Welcome everyone to this Peak Prosperity podcast. It is February 13, 2017 and I’m Chris Martenson. Of course, for the past week Oroville Dam in Oroville, California has been rapidly filling up, and then finally topping over the emergency spillway. All week as well the authorities, and media, have been saying “Everything is fine”, “No worries”, “All is under control”. And then suddenly, last night, Sunday night the 12th of February the emergency notice went out for 10,000 people to evacuate just the low lying areas downstream from Oroville itself to Gridley, California. Within hours that had been expanded to nearly 190,000 people. Cars were packed with people who left with literally the shirts on their backs, not having had any sufficient warning to do anything more than that. And we know this, because they were so hopelessly stuck in stopped traffic that reporters were able to walk up, knock on windows and conduct full interviews.

Now, as soon as I became aware of the situation I began to scour the net for useful, high quality information. As you know in the early times, sometimes it’s very difficult to find out what’s going on. Now one piece I came across was written by Scott Cahill, a dam contractor with tons of experience in the sorts of dams that we see at Oroville. It caught me right away, his piece of writing, as being full of actual terms and experience and knowledge; so I wanted to bring him on to discuss both this dam and the situation in Oroville, and the general state of dams in the United States more broadly.

As you know, we discuss infrastructure here and the sorry state of it from time to time and now we have a perfect reason to re-engage in that conversation. Scott Cahill, he’s a construction expert, a writer, a speech writer, public speaker, expert witness, sailor, hey he’s a pilot too. He has 40 years of large construction and development experience with over half a billion in completed projects, including very high security installations and very high level finish work – including stuff for the FBI, CIA, Armed Forces, military installations. He’s done work on hospitals, water and waste-water, bridges, airports, industrial and commercial institutional buildings and, of course, dams. He’s been a professional witness for construction issues and for dam issues and is a FEMA trainer for dam safety. Has dozens of papers and presentations on dam safety to his name. He is currently the owner of Watershed Services of Ohio, which completes work on dams in the Eastern US, including specialty underwater and diving work.

So, with all of that said, welcome Scott. Hey, thank you so much for joining us on such short notice.

Scott Cahill: It’s great to be here, and thank you for having me, Chris.

Chris Martenson: Well now, first Scott did I leave anything out that people might need to know, or want to know about you to assess your qualifications or experience here?

Scott Cahill: No, I think you’ve got it. For the last 20 years or so I’ve done dams almost exclusively; so I’ve had the opportunity to work on literally hundreds of dams. Many, many of them earth and embankment dams of the sort that we’re talking about here with Lake Oroville.

Chris Martenson: All right, and so let’s talk about that for a second, earth and embankment dams. What is it that you’ve experienced with them, and what do we need to know about them?

Scott Cahill: Well, an earth and embankment dam like the one that we’re talking about here, is generally an earth and fill that takes place between two abutting surfaces. In this case, it’s fairly high recovery rock on either side, which form the abutments. And then the central dam itself is placed out of soils, which are compacted in place.

The Oroville Dam has a semi-permease centroid, which is made up of graded clays and it has a – the mass of the dam, which creates the sloped surfaces, the faces of the dam, if you will, is composed of a stony soil, which was mined close by and brought to the site by train. It has a chimney drain in it to vent phreatic water, which is the groundwater that migrates laterally through a dam; so that it doesn’t manifest on the downstream face and cause it to be wet and to slough.

The mass of the dam itself, actually the weight of the soils are what resist the forces, the lateral forces of the water that are induced on it. So, it’s a magnificently large damn, 770 feet tall, and 6,920 feet long, a massive, massive, massive dam built in 1968.

Chris Martenson: Now Scott, I’ve built dams like this at the beach before when you have water coming back down. And, again you have the two faces and you slope them all up. And my experience with those at the beach is that everything is cool, until it’s not. The worry being that once water begins to penetrate anywhere along there it’s over pretty quick. Is that the general nature of earth and dams? Is that a feature that would be applicable here at Oroville, or is that just something that you find in sand at the beach?

Scott Cahill: No, it is so close that it’s frightening, Chris. That’s exactly what we’re talking about here. We have the dam itself, which is made up of erodible soils. Adjacent to the dam in what’s called the groin, where the dam abuts the abutting soils. We have the principle spillway and then farther, laterally from the dam itself we have the emergency spillway. And, they are, as much as possible, are in a surface that’s rock. And that is the situation with Oroville.

Chris Martenson: All right, so just to be clear there’s only a few ways for water to, on an approved basis, leave Lake Oroville. And one is through the electrical generating facilities that are at the base of the dam. The second would be what we’re calling the spillway, and then as you mentioned a little further along – so for facing the dam you know towards the lake. Further along to the left is the emergency spillway, which by the way got renamed the auxiliary spillway at some point during the week. I guess to take the word “emergency” out of the title. But, those are the three places, and I heard they shut down the power generating station for some reason. All this water is going down the spillway, which is where some trouble emerged. And then also water was topping and going over the emergency spillway, if we can just use that word. It’s easier for me to pronounce auxillary. So, tell us what happened? What – how did this develop and what occurred here?

Scott Cahill: Well the principle spillway, the normal way that we move water from the basin, from the pool out to discharge it is along the principle spillway. It’s lined with concrete, what we call plate slabs, concrete slabs which are reinforced on the base, and then training walls on either side. The water travels down, going through the gates at the crest of the dam, traveling down the spillway at a magnificently high velocity. And, in fact, in this particular dam it’s falling so far, so fast that they put some blocks at the bottom to break up that velocity so it didn’t scour downstream.

So, this is a nice, clean, concrete channel that exists down and spilling into the Feather River below. The emergency spillway, in this particular dam, is what we call an ogee weir. It’s a concrete structure with a level top that’s set at an elevation below the crest of the earth of the dam itself, so that in the event that water gets up to that elevation it will begin to spill over that weir and down the side of the abutting soils and into the river below.

Chris Martenson: All right. I read an article this morning. It was writing about 12 years ago. Twelve years ago a group, such as the Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, the South Yuba Citizens League. They filed a motion with the Federal Government; it was on October 17, 2005. And I’m reading here now from a mercury news article, which I will now quote. “As part of Oroville dams relicensing process urging federal officials to require that the dam’s emergency spillway be armored with concrete, rather than remain as an earth and hillside.

The groups filed the motion with FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. They said that the dam built known by the state of California 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. And then flow down the emergency spillway and that could cause heavy erosion that would create flooding for communities downstream. But could also cause a failure known as loss of crest control.”

Scott, isn’t that exactly what happened here?

Scott Cahill: That is precisely what happened here. I also am aware of that action, motion filed with FERC. Yeah, they really understood what the eventuality of the actuation of that emergency spillway may be. And in fact, something that one looks for in doing an inspection of a dam, particularly a FERC regulated dam, is that an emergency spillway produces a flat, canted plain that’s unencumbered by any woody vegetation or brush or anything like that.

I don’t know if you saw Chris the pictures of this thing, but this is near forested in this area, covered with trees. In fact literally a day or two before the spillway crested they had employees out pouring concrete in the corner where the ogee weir meets the structure of the gate structure. And also, removing the trees and vegetation from the emergency spillway. So, that’s indicative of improper maintenance of that spillway by, I think, anyone’s feelings as highly unusual to see a high hazard dam. Particularly, a FERC regulated high hazard dam; FERC does a great job with their dams generally. That has vegetation on an emergency spillway, very much a no/no.

Chris Martenson: And why is that a no/no?

Scott Cahill: The reason for it is that you want as much as possible to have a sheeted flow down that emergency spillway. When such a flow meets a tree, the tree of course will eventually fail. It doesn’t take long, as you can see from the velocities that we’re witnessing in this dam. And then the root ball proceeds down. When the root ball falls out of the embankment, it produces a hole. And that hole produces what we call a hydraulic jump. You can imagine like a tiny waterfall and circulatory water there. And it begins what’s called cutback. It’s an erosion that migrates from the imperfection back toward the basin, toward the pull of the dam. Exactly as has happened in the weathered rock within the emergency spillway.

Chris Martenson: All right, so as I understand it right now, the emergency spillway was a problem, you’re right. There were pictures of them, looked like tiny ants, it looked so insignificant, quick shoving some boulders and concrete into some corners of that whole emergency spillway. But the spillway itself, now that we’ve you know been at this for 24 hours, we’ve noticed that yes, there was damage to that spillway that had been noted a long time ago. They had done some sort of a patch. It failed. A huge hole opened up in the main spillway itself and then that was also back eroding, presumably from the same hydraulic hole sort of process you just described with the root ball, only much larger. Let’s talk about the spillway for a moment because that’s what people were worried might fail. What does that even mean, if a spillway fails?

Scott Cahill: The primary spillway, this is the concrete structure that we discussed earlier, was last inspected in 2015. During that inspection they did not actually go down into the spillway and shove cameras in holes and look at the soils beneath. From what I understand they did a visual inspection of it from a distance, believe it or not. In 2013, some work took place on the spillway to repair a scour and a failure of the plate slabs and in fact, the failure that’s manifested itself on the spillway today, which is a huge erosion both the plate slabs complete failure and the failure adjacent to the side, under the training wall and out, and basically the bottom third or half of the spillway is now gone.

That happened in exactly the same place, where it initiated. It started in the same place that that work was completed. The other item, Chris, that really promoted me to write my writing on this was a notice – I noticed some photographs of this spillway when it was actuated. There are drains all along the training walls, the two walls on the side of the spillway that form the sluiceway of the spillway.

Those drains should be dripping some water, some groundwater that may collect behind those walls. These were not. There was actually – if you look this up online you can see photographs of this where those drains are actually firing water out across the spillway, shooting it out under pressure. That’s indicative of a charge situation where water is getting underneath the spillway and the eventuality of that is a lifting of the slabs and exactly what we saw. When I saw the charge system I came to realize that the principle spillway was in a failure mode and I – that’s what caused me to write the things that I wrote. That I felt that it was imminent that the principle spillway fail.

Now, we’re kind of in a worst case scenario, if you will, and I don’t want to be an alarmist, but there are two ways to remove significant amounts of water from that dam. The power plant, Penstock will only move a small amount of water compared to either of the spillways. The principle spillway, which should be the only spillway used, is now severely damaged. They have allowed the emergency spillway to actuate. But on actuating the emergency spillway they find that it’s significantly damaged and has serious cutback that’s going to compromise the dam. So, rain is coming, basin is full, both spillways are damaged. We’re in a very, very serious predicament here with that dam. This is not a good situation to be in. We get to choose which spillway we pour water down. And we will probably choose the spillway that is cutting back the slowest toward the eventuality of erosive pull.

Chris Martenson: Well now, wait, that’s important what you’re saying here, Scott, so let me make sure I have this. The choices now include, they’re dumping 100,000 cubic feet per second I believe, or is that – what’s the measure here?

Scott Cahill: Second.

Chris Martenson: That’s per second; just massive quantities of water. So they’re still dumping that, that’s coming down the damaged spillway. And they’re doing that because they say, well we’ve got more rain coming, we absolutely don’t want to be topping anymore over the emergency spillway. So, it sounds like they’ve made the decision, based on what you just told me that risking more damage down the main spillway is preferable to any more topping coming over the emergency spillway. They’re kind of – the devil is in – damned if you do, damned if you don’t. But the emergency spillway seems to scare them more than the primary spillway at this point, is that correct?

Scott Cahill: Exactly. What they had said is only probably a day ago was that this wasn’t a significant problem because if we simply close the gates, the valves on the top end of the principle spillway, then the water will rise and spill over the emergency spillway and the emergency spillway has a magnificent capacity to move water. Well, when they allowed just a bit of water to run over the emergency spillway they soon found with the velocities of only a portion of the water that could be moving over that emergency spillway. They had such severe scour that they anticipated a failure of the structural elements within 45 minutes.

That initiated them moving people out of the inundation zone beneath the dam. And now I believe the thought is that the cut back on the principle spillway is slower than the failure mode on the emergency spillway, so they’re going to vent water down that principle spillway as much as they can without failing that element.

Chris Martenson: Now Scott, how would they be tracking the cutback on the spillway at this point in time? How would they really know what’s happening down there?

Scott Cahill: Well, I don’t know why this is, Chris, and this sounds silly but these things always seem to happen at night. Nothing happens when you can look at it. And always, it’s almost a joke in the dam safety community that when something bad starts to happen you send a lot of engineers out to look at it. That’s the response. And maybe it works, because at night when these things always seem to happen. They’re visually watching the cutback proceed up the spillway taking plate by plate, and section by section of the training walls, stepping back toward the dam. At the top of the dam there, of course, it breaks over at the crest and falls down the sluiceway of the spillway. At the top there is a large concrete structure. The right hand side of that structure, and in dams we always talk about looking from the reservoir downstream.

So, the right hand structure, right hand part of that structure is anchored into bedrock. And the left hand side of that structure comes awfully close to meeting the embankment soils of the dam itself. Of course, if water moves across the embankment soils of the dam, then there will be severe erosion of the dam, and the eventuality of that would be a breach. So, we certainly don’t ever want that to happen. And before that would happen the emergency spillway would run full bore, whether they wanted it to or not. There’s no way to control that. And, as it did, then it would start to take out components. For instance, that ogee weir that we talked about which is the controlling structure. When it did that, it would allow too much water. Another 10-20 feet out of the lake very, very quickly and the result of that failure of the elements, of the emergency spillway will be significant flooding downstream.

Chris Martenson: Significant like we’re losing what 20 feet of the lake surface all at once? Well not all at once, but I mean it’s going to drain as fast as it knows how through whatever gap is created, right?

Scott Cahill: Exactly, Chris. And unfortunately, in that eventuality, because it would be allowing so much water to move so rapidly down that rock, especially since we now see that the rock is not high recovery, which is very solid rock, but is weathered rock. And we see that it’s actually cutting back under some really slight flows here. That emergency spillway has never been actuated in the history of this dam, since it was constructed in 1968. And we find that after an hour or two we have significant failure of the soils in the abutments. And in fact, a scour that’s headed the whole way back and threatens the ogee weir, the only controlling structure there.

So, if the lake was to release, the question then is how much of those abutting soils with an extra 10-20 feet of water rolling down there, extremely violent kind of a hydraulic event, would be eroded away allowing even more of the lake to discharge?

Chris Martenson: Now, I haven’t seen any of the actual engineering drawings on this? Do we know where bedrock is under all of this?

Scott Cahill: I do not have the geological studies on the thing. You can see bedrock in photographs, so it is obvious that there is bedrock in both of the abutting sections here. You know, there are different grades of bedrock. And they call rock which has been exposed to the surface, as this has, weathered rock, or sometimes rotten rock. That is rock which has fissures and breaks in it, which is erodible under very high velocity. And that is what we’re seeing in this emergency spillway. We’re seeing the rock actually get washed away and leave this void, which is that cutback failure mode. And that void continues to migrate back, threatening the pool itself.

Chris Martenson: All right, so Scott take us to the moment – I’m sure this was very difficult for all the people involved who had to make the call. But this went from basically hey we’re a little concerned and maybe 10,000 – you need to go to 188,000. That was a very quick sort of a progression there. Certainly they must have been very worried by what they were seeing at that point in time. How do they make a call like that and what do you think they were seeing that made them so concerned?

Scott Cahill: They – what they saw, of course, was this cutback migrating back toward the ogee where – and they recognized the seriousness of that. I think you step into an area there Chris where, I think we have a real failure as a society. And that is that we want to placate people. We want not to upset people. We become so careful that we actually; you know, the way that the conversation went was, there’s no problem, there’s no problem, there’s no problem, evacuate.

Chris Martenson: Right.

Scott Cahill: That never should go that way. I find that a real fault. And I think that at the point when an emergency spillway was actuated that had never before been actuated. That means that the water level within Lake Oroville was higher than it had ever been in the history of that dam. Certainly, you’re inducing loads on the dam itself that it’s never seen before. The people downstream have a right to understand that, emphatically. They have a right to be told the truth, and I don’t think that anyone is doing anything with malice here. I think that they’re trying to do their job, trying to serve the people they work for, the owners of the dam, the state. I think they’re trying to do what they believe to be right, but I believe that it results in an unfair situation to the people living below this dam.

The way that the communication took place, I have personally have a problem with it. I think that we should have been much more straightforward with people. And we should have said to them, “We’re going to let this actuate and it’s going to be quite an event. And we’re going to watch it and we don’t know what’s going to happen. Hopefully it will be all right, but maybe it won’t be”. And to begin to allow people to start the process of planning, if indeed it became necessary. Worst case scenario that they leave the area, as indeed has played out here.

Chris Martenson: All right, indeed I agree with you completely around that because to me it’s tragic that people left with the shirts on their back in many cases, not even have the opportunity to spend 20 minutes gathering family photos or other things like that, or whatever might be needed to spend some time away. But, second of all, they were given no guidance in terms of how long they might be away. And knowing that we have another storm coming and it’s going to take more engineers with more daylight and more eyeballs to sort of assess where things actually are. Putting yourself in the shoes of somebody who does live in one of these downstream communities, perhaps in low lying area. If you lived there, downstream, who would you believe at this point in time? When would you feel comfortable moving back, you personally?

Scott Cahill: I – that’s a hard one to answer, truly Chris. It’s a shame. Understand that beneath the conversation there’s a very finite emergency action plan, which was drawn up and practiced and practiced. And in fact, if you look at the FEMA dam safety booklet, on the cover, the front cover of it is a picture of this dam. This dam is on the front cover of the emergency action planning book published by FEMA. So, you know the paper trail behind this is probably very, very sound. The failure, I believe, was in the methodology of conveying this information. And you know I don’t want to be critical of people that are going through hell right now, but I wish that they had let people pack a bag and get it in their car. You can always go back out and get it and say “Wasn’t that silly”?

But you know, I wish that they would have said to people the truth. The truth being that we just don’t know. The truth being that there are some things that simply can’t be calculated because they are simply too many variables.

Chris Martenson: All right. Personally this is where I, just as a commentary to say everything’s fine, everything’s fine, evacuate. That’s trust damaging, I think. So, for somebody like myself who is kind of safety conscious, I would want to – it would take me a little while to trust their next pronouncements which are everything is okay. Because my instinct is that government officials seem to want to placate.

We saw this play out with Fukushima big time. It took them three years to admit that they had three full core meltdowns, but they knew that probably within hours. And so this is – when we get into these large scale things, some of the very best reporting I’ve seen on this where the truth was actually being talked about, non-alarmist but I think very realistic tones were by citizens, not government officials who were tracking this whole thing from beginning to end. So, it – what I’m trying to do is I do have people from the area who listen to me and I’m trying to answer the question for them, which is who should they listen to now? How would they – what information would you –

Scott Cahill: It’s a difficult situation. It’s a situation that I’ve dealt with in the arena of dam safety for a very long time. If you remember back a way to Katrina, stay where you are, help is on the way. The question being, can we trust our government to disseminate information to us in our best interest? And I’m afraid Chris, that the answer is we cannot. The ultimate responsibility is on each individual. Where do you get that information that can allow you to make a determination that is valid for yourself? I mean there are people in their 80’s who don’t move quickly. There are people who it’s a big deal to go out and get in the car and move. There are people with disabilities. There are people with special needs. I don’t know. It’s a failure Chris, and we’ve got to do better. We’ve got to do better.

I think that – I see these things where we have people who are trained in this and they communicate and I see failure after failure after failure. And to just candidly and honestly answer your question, no I don’t trust what they’re saying myself. I had – when I wrote my piece I had people come on who were engineers and lambast me and say “You don’t know what you’re talking about” and “How could you say these things”? And “It’s completely safe” and “The emergency spillway is huge” and on and on and on. And you know I want to believe that everything is going to be okay, and I don’t want to be an alarmist. But, there is an issue of responsibility there. We have to be telling people what is actually going on and time and time again we have failed to do that honorably and properly.

And maybe it’s because we just wish for things to be better. It’s very frightening to be the engineer or the person running a dam that has a serious issue. I imagine these guys are not sleeping at night, are petrified, are worried sick. If they’re not, they should get another job. They should be.

But, we have to find a better way to communicate and who can you trust? Chris Martenson and maybe Scott Cahill, for now. I hope that’s improved though, Chris.

Chris Martenson: Me too, and I agree completely with what you’ve said. And of course I don’t disagree that people taking more personal responsibility; I don’t disagree with that being a bad thing. I think it’s a good thing. And that’s a more engaged citizenry is a wonderful thing in most cases.

In this case though, the Oroville Dam I don’t think was really – Scott I don’t think this was on a lot of people’s radar screen, but as you say this is not just a damn. It’s one of the 20 largest dams in the world. It’s on the cover of the FEMA Emergency manual you talked about for dam safety I believe. And so this is actually a pretty big reservoir for California. What do you think is in the future for the Oroville Dam? Is it just compromised and has to operate at a lower capacity or could it – in your experience can they rehabilitate it to full duty, or what happens now do you think?

Scott Cahill: Well what’s going to happen now Chris is that we’re going to spend a magnificent amount of money on a simple problem that could have been satisfied with a very small expenditure? The balance between maintenance and capital projects is ridiculously one sided. And having allowed this to occur, there’s now – when I first wrote my article, I said you’re talking about a $200,000 to $300,000 job to grout under that spillway. And you’re going to be talking about 5 million dollars to repair the hole. Well now in a matter of hours it’s become a 200 million dollar problem. It’s going to be a magnificent amount of money. The state of California cannot afford not to have the water that is held in Lake Oroville. So, we must repair the dam.

And on a broader sense we must repair many, many dams. But this particular dam I feel, and of course we don’t know how far this goes. Let us hope that we’re simply repairing some pretty severe erosion, and some serious damage to two spillways. That would be as good as it will get at this point. As bad as it will get at this point would be a V notch breech, which is incorporation of the failure into the dam itself. And that would be very, very difficult indeed. Both from a permitting standpoint and ecological standpoint, and for so many reasons. That would be a very difficult thing and it would be a very difficult thing for the people of California who so desperately need the water. It would take a very long time to get that pool reestablished.

Chris Martenson: Right, well especially after they just come out of a pretty punishing drought. Obviously a lot of water sensitivity around these issues now; so this is a – it’s really symbolic on a lot of levels. And so you started to mention what I want to get into here for the final part of this is let’s broaden this up Scott. What about – let’s talk about the state of dams across the US in general. I’m sure it’s a mixed bag, some are probably pretty great shape and some are not. But how many would you say are on the worrisome side of the tracks and how do we measure and talk about that? What’s the language here?

Scott Cahill: It’s an interesting problem. The finest dams in the United States I believe are dams which are under the control of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, as is this dam. There are many dams which are in horrible, horrible shape, unbelievable shape across the United States. Many states have 4,000 dams. Many states have 2,000 and 3,000 dams. Of those dams I would imagine that 20% are in an absolutely untenable situation.

When we look at this dam, which is a highly regulated dam, a dam more highly regulated than almost any others. They had an emergency spillway filled with trees. They had a principle spillway that was in the process of failing and had been for years. So, if this can exist on one of the most highly regulated dams then one can just interpolate and imagine what the rest of the situation is like.

Dams and infrastructure in general in these United States have been ignored since they were constructed; many of them 100 years old. The mass of them more than 50 years old. And the design life when they were constructed, generally 50 years. We – it’s hard politically to go back and spend the money proactively to develop safety because nothing has happened. And so, with dam safety, time and time again we act after the horrible event. Something really horrible happens and someone reacts to that and says, “You know I will never let this happen again”. And indeed we move forward. And then the pressure is off and it’s not frightening anymore and we go back to a level of complacency that allows us to get where we stand today.

Dams are in terrible shape in the United States as are all of our infrastructure, bridges, 600,000 bridges with 27% of them not meeting their minimum requirements. A number of these high hazard dams are not even close. There’s a report card given out by the American Society of Civil Engineers and many states, dam inventories are getting D’s, D minuses, D plusses. It’s hard to believe. Certainly someone in the 1960’s would never believe that the United States would have these issues, but we’ve ignored them far too long, Chris.

Chris Martenson: I certainly have been reading a lot about that and it’s great to talk with somebody like yourself who put eyes and feet on these things. But when you say maybe 20%, we’re talking thousands and thousands of dams. You mentioned as well that there’s a very asymmetrical balance between maintenance costs and then the capital to fix something.

While you were talking I suddenly remember, I haven’t researched this, b so pardon if I get sort of the terms wrong or the dates wrong or whatnot. But I’m thinking of the coal, fly, ash impoundment that Duke Energy lost awhile back, and it just spilled horribly into rivers and you know across the suburban area. Would those impoundments also count as dams or is that something that’s a separate category entirely?

Scott Cahill: No they do, they do as do levy’s, as do all of these – anything that creates an embankment of a fluid, water, mud, anything that creates a significant embankment. That – the definition changes a bit from state to state, but all of the levy’s that line, in fact the – this dam downstream has a number of levy’s also that are at risk obviously with the evolution.

You touched on something else, Chris, that’s really pertinent here. It’s not just releasing a bunch of water downstream. And it's not even just the flood. But, because this maintenance and this upgrade wasn’t done, everybody, I think, has seen the water that is leaving, running down that embankment. This is water that’s extremely turbid with a lot of soil suspended in it. This is going to cause a loss of oxygen, fish are going to die, habitat is going to be destroyed. This is an ecological disaster that’s already taking place. Beside the liability, honestly I don’t know if this dam is going to make it or not. That’s a frightening statement to make.

We’ve got rain coming, as you’ve pointed out. It’s a significant amount of rain. They’re anticipating days upon days of rain. They can only lower the pool so fast because of the crippled spillways that they enjoy and I don’t know, I don’t know what’s going to happen here. If this dam would fail, it would be catastrophic. It would be catastrophic to the state of California. It would be catastrophic to the nation.

This is an important dam and an important element of our infrastructure. And the loss of – if you set aside life, which is hard to do and just look at the money already lost. When you move 100,000 people out of their homes you know you can spend a lot of money to keep that from happening. That is a huge, huge cost to the whole of us. And this ecological exacerbation is on top of that; so now we’re going to lose fish, we’re going to lose habitat, the stream is going to be choked with mud, the dam downstream is going to have to be dredged behind it. All because we didn’t want to spend the money to do what we probably should have done with this emergency spillway, and to spend the money on the maintenance of the primary spillway.

Chris Martenson: And it sounded like relative chump change given what you just outlined there. So, in closing last question: What sort of numbers are we talking about to fix just the dam portion of this story? Is this hundreds of millions in deferred maintenance? Is it billions? Is it trillion? We’ve seen big numbers that the society for civil engineers is throwing around for totally getting our infrastructure in America back to first world standards. What’s the dam portion of this bill do you think, where would we begin to get a sense of the range on this?

Scott Cahill: I calculated that not too far back believe it or not. President Trump has said that he’s willing to set aside 550 billion dollars for infrastructure. That is a magnificent amount of money. If he would just call me, I would tell him that it needs to be closer to 2 trillion dollars. I wish it were otherwise, but it’s not.

When you start adding up the numbers and applying percentages and applying averages for cost of maintenance to bring things up to an acceptable level, it goes quickly. Here is the model. A contractor could have gone out and grouted the spillway and put new drains in. And if he did a really great job and fixed it all up as good as it could be, he would have spent perhaps $500,000, maybe a bit more. A contractor could have gone and lined the emergency spillway, he probably would have spent 5 million dollars doing that. So, for 5 million, call it 6 million. Now we’re looking at 200 million dollars. Not to mention all the other costs that we don’t even calculate here. And God forbid, if we’re talking about the losses of a partial breach of a dam. It’s so fool hardy to save that penny when all the dollars that are lost when things go badly, as things are doing to some level here.

I believe in it. I think we’re talking about a 2 trillion dollar problem, that all doesn’t have to happen tomorrow, but it does have to happen. We can’t let it go any longer. It’s to a point now where we must address it.

Chris Martenson: I totally agree and it would be money well spent, obviously and would get us up to acceptable standards for safety and quality, as well. And also, just the joy of living around beautiful, well-maintained things which has a value all on its own. I just took a train from basically from Hartford to Washington this morning and got to see the state of our rail system. This is Amtrak, not to beat on them, but lots of concrete out there that needs replacing, as well. So, it’s very visible, it’s very obvious. But in this case it was highly disruptive. And if you think of 100,000 people, every $10 that they’re out in this story, lost wages or whatever is another million dollars in that story of loss.

Yeah, for penny wise pound foolish, totally understand that. Really, being large, I hope we learn the lessons from this. Not clear that we did post Katrina really get a lot of lessons out of this, but sometimes it takes two big life events to get us back on track. So, with that Scott, thank you so much for your time today, really appreciate it. What an honor to talk with an expert such as yourself and thank you for writing what you did and putting your name out there. And I didn’t consider it alarmist at all, but rather just this is a possible thing we might consider as part of landscape here. So, again thank you for that and thank you for your time today.

Scott Cahill: Thank you so much for having me Chris; I enjoyed talking to you.

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81 Comments

  • Mon, Feb 13, 2017 - 8:10pm

    #1
    Daniel Himmelstein

    Daniel Himmelstein

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    Posts: 1

    2005 Relicensing Motion to Intervene

    Great episode. Really glad you decided to cover this fascinating story as it unfolds. Great job getting Scott Cahill, who seemed like a real expert, on the show.
    You briefly mentioned the 2005 FERC relicensing proceeding where Friends of the River, Sierra Club, and SYRCL raised concerns over the unarmored emergency spillway and predicted the erosion that precipitated the evacuation yesterday. This story was originally broken by The Mercury News and more recently covered by The Washington Post.
    What I found disturbing about the media coverage was that none of the articles actually linked to the filing. I could not agree more that individuals must take responsibility for themselves. Accurate first-hand information is critical to making the right decisions. However, the media rarely links to its sources giving readers little more than a few quotes to base judgments on.
    Anyways, I dug the source document out of the FERC website and posted it to Scribd. What I found most damning about this Motion to Intervene was the final page where the emergency spillway is aptly called an unarmored “spillway without a spillway” and hillside erosion is suggested as a likely consequence. The State Water Contractors responded with the sole argument that Friends of the River didn’t prove erosion would occur. But shouldn’t the burden of proof be flipped? Oroville Dam should be provably resilient rather than unproven deficient.

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  • Mon, Feb 13, 2017 - 10:33pm

    #2
    Time2help

    Time2help

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    Ugh

    On second thought, helicopters dropping boulders and sandbags sounds like a really good idea.

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 12:43am

    Reply to #2

    rhare

    Status Silver Member (Offline)

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    Best picture yet!

    Time2Help,
    Wow, that’s the best picture yet that shows why they are so worried about any more water going over the “emergency/auxillary” spillway. 

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 2:59am

    #3

    davefairtex

    Status Diamond Member (Online)

    Joined: Sep 03 2008

    Posts: 3250

    the first time = danger

    “This is the first time water has risen to this level in the history of this dam.”
    “This will be the first activation of the emergency spillway.”
    When I heard him say this, it got my attention.  Until an item or a process has been actually tested, you have no idea if it will actually work.  Ideally, you never want to be the first person or group to go through an “error condition” or situation.
    Awesome interview.  I really enjoyed the guest’s perspective.  You don’t really want an optimistic engineer working for you.  Instead, you want a cranky, pessimistic one, that thinks that everything is probably going to fail.  That raises the level of operational stress you are under, but the chances of actual failure go way down.  That’s my perspective anyway.  I’ve dealt with both kinds of thinking, and as a manager, I was always much more worried about the optimistic engineer’s projects.  I knew from my own experience that if they weren’t worried, then they weren’t really that aware about how complex the whole thing actually was, and all of the possible failure modes it might have.
    I was always pleasantly surprised when my code went an entire release without some big problem happening that was traceable back to my component.  I wonder sometimes if the people who design planes are actually comfortable flying in them.  They know all too well just how many things can go wrong.  When the news breaks that a plane has actually gone down, I’m willing to bet that each engineer is secretly praying that it wasn’t their subsystem that failed and caused the crash.
    You can be sure it wasn’t a cranky engineer who called it an “auxiliary” spillway.  That had to have been someone in Public Relations.  Or Marketing.

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 4:45am

    Reply to #2

    Michael_Rudmin

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    Nope, not helicopters and rocks.

    You need a strong mesh there. You get all the prestressed piles and girders you can, steel girders too. You fly them in there, and then with early-strength concrete you bind them together and drop them in place into a giant truss. wherever you can, you bolt them together. Where you can’t, rebar plus concrete will do.
    Then with the truss, you fill in with smaller elements, a mesh across that. then smaller again, your final layers are — what? You need an elastic wall. I might well go for wood on the outer layer.
    Then you drain the entire thing, and rebuild it right.

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 5:37am

    #4
    Michael Frome

    Michael Frome

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    cranky engineers

    I’m not a “dirt engineer”, my field is elsewhere, but Fairfax is right on with the Cranky Engineer paradigm.  Alas, they are often ignored.  Cranky engineers (I am one of them) know and believe that *everything* has failure potential, and usually multiple failure modes, and push for design margins to cover contingencies.  It is always a tension between the funding money and making a system as robust as forseeably possible.  This is how Fukashimas (and apparently Orovilles) happen.
    I understand cost constraints too, but safety-critical systems deserve extra attention.
    It especially disturbs me that,if this issue winds up turning on cost decisions, that there will be nobody at all held accountable due to the “those decisions didn’t happen on my watch” aka widely distributed accountability syndrome.
    I wonder if there will be an Erin Brokovich type dirt engineer coming forward at any point with some answers.  In the meantime, I hope the thing doesn’t go completely off the rails before they can get a maintenance availability to patch it.  I understand there is a bit of rain coming up in the region.
    m
     

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 5:41am

    #5
    Michael Frome

    Michael Frome

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    civil engineering question

    I heard that erosion rate supposedly has a cube relationship to volumetric water flow (another one of those exponential things!).  Can anybody here confirm or expand that?  Haven’t listened to the podcast yet, going to do that as soon as I have a few minutes.

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 10:33am

    #6

    Adam Taggart

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

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    888 Feet

    An hourly log of the water level at the Oroville Dam can be found at this URL:
    http://rdcfeeds.redding.com/lakelevels/oro.cfm
    As of 10am PST this morning, the level was at 887.94 feet:

    The plan on the ground at the dam is to try to get the lake level to 850 feet before the rains start up on Thursday.

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 12:20pm

    #7

    Adam Taggart

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    Images from Oroville

    A source on the ground at the Oroville dam has sent us these images (taken approximately at 10:30am PST 2/14/17).
    Water flowing down the primary spillway (video). Volume is still high, but it looks like there's a lot less sediment in the water, meaning less erosion of the berm going on. That's likely a good sign:

    A closer shot of the primary spillway:

    Helicopters have begun dropping the 1-ton bags of crushed rock to the weak spots on emergency spillway:

    Video of the Feather River as it runs through the town of Oroville. Still lots of sediment here, which is wreaking havoc on downstream fisheries and ecosystems:

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 12:38pm

    #8

    Arthur Robey

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    Erosion

    The carrying capacity. (Erosive capacity) of water varies as a cube of its velocity.
    Given infinite funds therefore ( or even funds diverted from gender alignment surgery) the spillway should follow the contour lines until it finds an entry to an underground aquifer.

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 1:05pm

    #9

    Adam Taggart

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    BREAKING: Another Failure Point Just Reared Its Head

    From our source (an anonymous command team member) on site at Oroville:
    The debris from the erosion in the primary spillway, combined with the debris from the use of the emergency spillway, has collected where those spillways run off into the Feather River.
    This is causing the waters to back up towards the dam itself, and have flooded the power station there. In addition, a wall associated with the power station is about to fail, which will add to the damage/destruction to the facility.
    So now things have become a lot worse:
    The power station is not going to be operational again for a long time. And will likely be very costly to repair/rebuild.
    The 17,000 cfps outlet for the dam located near the power station is now no longer an option. Given that, and given that the emergency spillway is in such dire shape, the compromised primary spillway is now the only option for reducing the water level behind the dam.
    The turbulence of the waters swirling around the spillway debris may likely increase the erosion factor of the dam’s earthen berm, increasing the odds for a catastrophic failure.

    We’ll report more as we learn of it.

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 1:42pm

    #10
    Scott Cahill

    Scott Cahill

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    Oroville Dam

    Chris:
    Thank you so very much for having me on your podcast about the Oroville dam and issues of infrastructure and the national dam inventory. I had a wonderful time and truly appreciate the opportunity to talk to your community and to become a part of it.

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 2:26pm

    #11

    Adam Taggart

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

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    Posts: 2686

    Evacuaton Order Lifted

    California state officials just announced that they are lifting the evacuation order from towns downstream of the Oroville dam:

    “Any resident displaced by the evacuation may return home at 1:00 pm; however all residents are advised to remain vigilant and prepared as conditions can rapidly change. People who have special needs or require extended time to evacuate should consider remaining evacuated,” said the announcement, issued by Sheriff Kory Honea.

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 2:49pm

    Reply to #10

    Chris Martenson

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

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    You're welcome Scott

    Scott Cahill wrote:

    Chris:
    Thank you so very much for having me on your podcast about the Oroville dam and issues of infrastructure and the national dam inventory. I had a wonderful time and truly appreciate the opportunity to talk to your community and to become a part of it.

    Scott,  that was a great interview and very helpful to all who listened to it.  
    Thank you for your candor, expertise and availability!
     
     

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 2:50pm

    Reply to #9
    Scott Cahill

    Scott Cahill

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    Power station area of dam flooding

    Adam:
      This is a failure mode that I had discussed some time ago in my writing. The eventuality of this flooded toe of the dam is erosion of the embankment. As the pool beneath the dam forms, and the spillway remains actuated, the pool will begin to rotate counter-clockwise. This will cause erosion of the toe of the dam, the power house area, and depending on the specifics, potentially significant erosion of the downstream face. The spillways will be needed again in force if the rain that is anticipated comes. The possibility of renewing the evacuation and of a possible event is very real.

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 3:01pm

    #12
    Karta Shaffer

    Karta Shaffer

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    Posts: 25

    CNBC

    It’s all safe now. Expect heavy traffic on the way back in to town. The spillway has been thoroughly inspected. It wasn’t the government’s fault. Doubleplusgood!
    https://www.google.com/amp/www.cnbc.com/amp/2017/02/14/authorities-lift-

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 3:39pm

    Reply to #9

    Snydeman

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 06 2013

    Posts: 560

    Adam Taggart wrote:From our

    Adam Taggart wrote:

    From our source (an anonymous command team member) on site at Oroville:
    The debris from the erosion in the primary spillway, combined with the debris from the use of the emergency spillway, has collected where those spillways run off into the Feather River.
    This is causing the waters to back up towards the dam itself, and have flooded the power station there. In addition, a wall associated with the power station is about to fail, which will add to the damage/destruction to the facility.
    So now things have become a lot worse:
    The power station is not going to be operational again for a long time. And will likely be very costly to repair/rebuild.
    The 17,000 cfps outlet for the dam located near the power station is now no longer an option. Given that, and given that the emergency spillway is in such dire shape, the compromised primary spillway is now the only option for reducing the water level behind the dam.
    The turbulence of the waters swirling around the spillway debris may likely increase the erosion factor of the dam’s earthen berm, increasing the odds for a catastrophic failure.
    We’ll report more as we learn of it.

     
    Oh, well this explains why they’d lift the evacuation. Ugh.

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 3:50pm

    #13
    Uncletommy

    Uncletommy

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    Other things to consider?

    When considering infrastructure costs, long term planning is essential and should come with current tracking of hydraulic dynamics. Whether dam building, road building, irrigation plans, what have you; watershed criteria needs to be seriously considered. We only need the historical evidence of the fertile crescent, China’s environmental crisis, Easter Island, Greenland’s demise in the middle ages, and other human induced catastrophes that result from pushing nature beyond her established  limits. As human population continues to expand, we can only hope that we become more diligent in considering ALL the facts before economics forces us off the trail. Consider:

      The amount of sediment carried into a reservoir is at its highest during floods: in the US, for example, commonly half of a river’s annual sediment load may be transported during only 5 to 10 days flow. During and after a particularly violent storm a river may carry as much sediment as it would in several “normal” years. Mudslides caused by earthquakes and volcanoes can also have a dramatic and unpredictable effect on reservoir sedimentation. Global warming, which is predicted to cause more intense storms, will likely increase both the unpredictability and rate of reservoir sedimentation.

    From : https://www.internationalrivers.org/sedimentation-problems-with-dams
     

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  • Tue, Feb 14, 2017 - 4:29pm

    #14
    Michael Frome

    Michael Frome

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    expert

    Thank you Scott, for sharing your expertise with us.
    m
     

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  • Wed, Feb 15, 2017 - 1:49am

    #15

    thc0655

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

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    First and second rules of engineering

    1. Given enough time and money engineers can solve any problem.
    2. There’s never enough time or money.

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  • Wed, Feb 15, 2017 - 3:57am

    Reply to #15

    davefairtex

    Status Diamond Member (Online)

    Joined: Sep 03 2008

    Posts: 3250

    pick two, the 9-women rule

    Here are some actual engineering rules.
    1) You have available to you the factors of Fast, Good, and Cheap.  You are allowed to select two; the third is a byproduct.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_management_triangle
    Design something quickly and to a high standard, but then it will not be cheap.
    Design something quickly and cheaply, but it will not be of high quality.
    Design something with high quality and cheaply, but it will take a relatively longer time.

    And that’s further constrained by the following two rules:
    2) Some projects can only be completed so fast.  It still takes 9 months to make a baby, no matter how many women you add to the project.  Another way of saying this is, 9 women cannot make a baby in one month.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mythical_Man-Month
    3)  Adding people, to an already-late project, makes the project finish even later.  [ibid]  In truth, all you can really do to speed up development once you’re staffed up and the project is in progress involves removing features, or decreasing quality.  A common request is, “Let’s say we shorten the testing phase.”  This results in more bugs, guaranteed.
    These are truth for software engineering projects.  I can’t speak for the guys working with the molecules, but I suspect some of the same limitations apply.

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  • Wed, Feb 15, 2017 - 4:41am

    #16
    Lindsey Annison

    Lindsey Annison

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    Detail of the dam

    Great interview. 
    Not sure if this is of any interest. Nov 1974 California Water Project Storage Facilities Bulletin. 
    Oroville Dam details start on page 63
    https://archive.org/stream/zh9californiastatew2003calirich#page/62/mode/2up

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  • Wed, Feb 15, 2017 - 7:03am

    Reply to #15
    Time2help

    Time2help

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    Posts: 2272

    3rd rule

    thc0655 wrote:

    1. Given enough time and money engineers can solve any problem.
    2. There’s never enough time or money.

    3. Your design can be:
    Good Quality
    Cheap
    Fast

    You can pick any two.  
    Noting #2 above, not sure how they are going to wind up with a good fix without a hell of a lot of “”money””. They appear to be running out of time.

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  • Wed, Feb 15, 2017 - 7:44am

    Reply to #15

    Snydeman

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    Posts: 560

    davefairtex wrote:3)  Adding

    davefairtex wrote:

    3)  Adding people, to an already-late project, makes the project finish even later.  [ibid]  In truth, all you can really do to speed up development once you’re staffed up and the project is in progress involves removing features, or decreasing quality.  A common request is, “Let’s say we shorten the testing phase.”  This results in more bugs, guaranteed.
    These are truth for software engineering projects.  I can’t speak for the guys working with the molecules, but I suspect some of the same limitations apply.

    Unless it’s Scotty. He can always complete projects in half the time.
     
    Someone beam up Scotty!

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  • Wed, Feb 15, 2017 - 8:00am

    #17
    Lindsey Annison

    Lindsey Annison

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    Question for Scott

    https://www.metabunk.org/data/MetaMirrorCache/7bfb5f803e01e6e36c5d0cf583097f44.jpg
    This is a high res photo taken (apparently) yesterday. 
    If you look below the two pylons on left hand side of the main spillway, where there is a bend in the dirt road and below, there are huge cracks running all the way down the hillside.
    If this earth was to slip downwards, would it potentially block the river and what impact would this have on the toe of the dam?
    Thank you 
     

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  • Wed, Feb 15, 2017 - 9:51am

    #18

    Cold Rain

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    12z GFS Total QPF Through 180 hrs

    Looks like it’s going to be pretty wet.  The Canadian model pretty much agrees.

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  • Wed, Feb 15, 2017 - 9:56am

    #19
    Time2help

    Time2help

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    Posts: 2272

    Opportunity

    Given the evacuation order lift…using this time to move anything important out of the potential flood zone would be a prudent course of action IMO.
    As well as leaving prior to the onset of heavy rains.
    YLMMV.

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  • Wed, Feb 15, 2017 - 11:38am

    #20
    Jeremy O'Leary

    Jeremy O'Leary

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    Posts: 1

    Hourly Analysis of the Oroville Dam Disaster

    I didn’t create this, but wanted to pass it along.
    https://github.com/axibase/atsd-use-cases/blob/master/OrovilleDam/README.md
    “Let’s begin by gathering current data for the Oroville dam from cdec.water.ca.gov. This dataset can be found here.
    Data is collected hourly for the Oroville dam for the following metrics:
    Reservoir Elevation (feet)
    Reservoir Storage (acre-foot)
    Dam Outflow (cubic feet/second)
    Dam Inflow (cubic feet/second)
    Spillway Outflow (cubic feet/second)
    Rain (inches)”

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  • Wed, Feb 15, 2017 - 2:10pm

    Reply to #17

    Chris Martenson

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

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    Posts: 4797

    Not sure....

    CampoGirl wrote:

    https://www.metabunk.org/data/MetaMirrorCache/7bfb5f803e01e6e36c5d0cf583097f44.jpg
    This is a high res photo taken (apparently) yesterday. 
    If you look below the two pylons on left hand side of the main spillway, where there is a bend in the dirt road and below, there are huge cracks running all the way down the hillside.
    If this earth was to slip downwards, would it potentially block the river and what impact would this have on the toe of the dam?
    Thank you 

    Thanks for the photo.  Very helpful to see the extent of the scour damage all over the place.
    To me it’s not clear that the dark reddish line beneath the pylons is a crack in the earth.  It is right next to other tire marks so it could be a path of some sort?  Also, the ‘crack’ seems to stop right at the road.
    I can’t really tell, but it does not seem to go further, and that seems odd to me.  
    Nor are the vertical markings at the bend obvious cracks to me…could be gullies (of shallow depth) instead?
    If the hillside did slump, that would be a bad thing, obviously, because that might create all sorts of problems ranging from weakening the dam face to blocking the river temporarily,
    But, again, it’s not clear to me that we are looking at a crack, or cracks.

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  • Wed, Feb 15, 2017 - 2:53pm

    #21
    RedRider13

    RedRider13

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    Photo Anaylsis

    (cross-posting from the other Oroville article)
     I did some research online looking at photo’s. Found some interesting things…
    In this photo you can see the drains actively flowing above the failure site.They cease to flow below the failure, indicating that the water is no longer under pressure and has been relieved by the failure of the spillway surface. They also appear to flow stronger the higher up the face they are. This would be because some of the water is released along the spillway side curtain, as seen in a following photo. I think this leak has been in place for a long time, and has only recently exposed itself in a surface failure. They previously attempted to patch the crack, without solving the under surface situation.

     
    http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/dl5u4j/picture131933599/binary/SPILLWAYWATCHcopy
     
    This image seems to support the increased flow observations from earlier. Also note no flow below the failure point. This is only on the “Left” side of the spillway, the right side still flows below the failure site. Also, lots of flow….without much spillway pressure… possibly indicating a pool breach pressure source.

     
    http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/27n2uk/picture131475559/binary/spillwaydamage
     
    Note, flow continues past failure on left side of picture. Does not appear that pressure is coming from spillway source. Not a good sign.

    http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/3ll8fd/picture131475549/binary/KGspillwaydamage

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  • Wed, Feb 15, 2017 - 4:56pm

    #22

    Adam Taggart

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

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    Posts: 2686

    10+ inches of rain in the next week

    The latest forecast shows roughly 10 inches of rain will fall in Oroville over the next week, and likely more in the surrounding environs that feed into the dam:

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  • Wed, Feb 15, 2017 - 5:08pm

    #23
    Uncletommy

    Uncletommy

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    Posts: 532

    Another wrinkle in the ongoing infrastructure saga

    Tapping into energy resources comes with costs. Which one will be next?
    Coming to a local oil field near you!
    http://calgaryherald.com/business/energy/energy-watchdog-shuts-down-lexi
     

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  • Wed, Feb 15, 2017 - 7:34pm

    Reply to #17

    Grover

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

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    Posts: 695

    Hip Pocket Review Of Photos

    Great Photo CampoGirl!
    That reddish line looks more like plastic perforated construction limit fencing – more for personnel safety. The “cracks” below the hairpin bend look more like gully erosion. With all the recent rains, water likely collected along the roadway to the hairpin and then took the path of least resistance downhill.
    The soils are variable, but fairly shallow. As Scott noted, there is plenty of “rotten” weathered rock. Weathered rock isn’t as competent and erodes much more quickly. The weathering generally progresses from the surface along joints or cracks in the rock where water can percolate more easily. Weathering generally takes place over long time spans. Nonetheless, fast moving water dislodges weaker rock and batters more competent rock with it.
    Although the situation here is far from desirable, the water coming off the spillway is running clear. That tells me that it is reaching a point of stasis. Unless the flow rate through the spillway increases, it is likely stabilizing. That’s as good as can be expected at this time.
    Looking near the left side of the emergency spillway, there is a rounded erosion feature that is being “repaired” by boulders and a concrete pumper (equipment with segmented green lines.) Time2Help posted an aerial photo that showed this feature a couple of days ago in the daily digest. That feature is likely what caused officials to issue the evacuation order. Angular “V” shaped features are more common in competent rock. Rounded erosion features like this are indicative of foliated (platy) weak rock. This localized weaker rock could easily extend under the emergency spillway. If water flowing over the emergency spillway continued to erode this feature toward the weir, it could easily undermine the weir and tunnel to the reservoir. That would have been potentially catastrophic! The emergency spillway has other undesirable attributes. This was just the most noticeable. They need to do whatever they can to keep from using the emergency spillway.
    We’re not out of the woods yet, but the situation isn’t as dire as it was. If I were advising the authorities, I would suggest building a temporary dam (with a sequence of boulders, cobbles, gravel, and an impermeable membrane) downstream of the power house and then pump the tail water out. This would prevent the sloshing tail water from further damaging the power house and the toe of the dam. It would also allow more discharge through the spillway (if possible/necessary) to keep water from flowing over the emergency spillway.
    On a positive note, this crisis will force other dam owners to be more vigilant. Deferred maintenance will no longer be deferred. Just 2 cents from a retired “dirt” engineer,
    Grover
    BTW, Scott’s explanations were wonderful – easily understood and technically founded.
    Edit – peterkukendall wrote on the “Oroville Dam Threatens to Collapse” thread that operations are ongoing to get the power plant back on line. My suggestion to dewater the power house can be ignored.

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  • Thu, Feb 16, 2017 - 9:21am

    Reply to #3
    Scott Cahill

    Scott Cahill

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    First Actuation of Emergency Spillway

    Dave:
    I whole heartedly agree – this was a serious and tenuous event. It was very poorly conveyed – Thanks for the kind words, too.
     
    Scott

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  • Thu, Feb 16, 2017 - 9:26am

    Reply to #17
    Scott Cahill

    Scott Cahill

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    Blockage by Emergency Spillway actuation

    Great Picture!  You are exactly right. In fact, the loss of trees and soils, rock, and debris already experienced with this low-flow discharge has choked the stream and caused backup. If the Em. Spillway is used to move significant amounts of water there will be losses of earth, rock, and debris again downstream. I imagine, because of our recent experience, that this will result in flooding of the base of the dam and scour across the stream. I think generally that your assessment is accurate,
    Scott

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  • Thu, Feb 16, 2017 - 9:41am

    #24
    Scott Cahill

    Scott Cahill

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    Nice people

    Hello All
    I am first going to say, thank you all for the intelligent, well-written, consideration of this issue. The nice comments mean the world to me, and have made my day today. As I write, the rain is falling across the watershed. It is a horrifying and unacceptable evolution that we have seen develop. Lets all hope that the dam holds. It is an odd thing, playing Chicken Little to an ever decaying infrastructure, one must warn because it is honorable to do so. Still, the bad part may, out of frustration, begin to actually hope for the worst, to allow, at last a universal understanding, to get it over with, so we may start, at last, to make things right.
    I have torn the tiny devil from my shoulder and have stomped him thoroughly. I am listening to the little angel that sits on the other. If we must suffer a dam breach in order to become responsible, let it not be this dam. There are too many good people in its shadow. The water is too precious, and the ecology of the region too valuable. Perhaps, if mankind cannot learn without tragedy, let it be on some remote mountainside or coastal area, where no one must die, where no home is lost.
    Thank you for your thoughts and assistance, and for being the informed minority. I am so honored to be a part.
    Scott Cahill

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  • Thu, Feb 16, 2017 - 9:46am

    #25

    Chris Martenson

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    Flash Flood Watch In Effect

    There remains a flash flood watch in effect at Oroville (issued last night 2/15):

    FLASH Flood Watch IN EFFECT FOR THE Auxiliary SPILLWAY AT OROVILLE DAM IN BUTTE COUNTY CA… The National Weather Service in Sacramento CA has issued a Flash Flood Watch for the Auxiliary Spillway of Oroville Dam in Butte County. 
    Officials managing the incident indicated that the situation has stabilized sufficiently to lift mandatory evacuation orders. However, voluntary evacuation notices are in place. Flash Flood Watch for Auxiliary Spillway of Oroville Dam on the Feather River in Butte County California.
    Watch will remain in place until the situation changes.
    Residents are urged to follow emergency instructions from local authorities.
    (Source)

    A ‘watch’ is a level below ‘warning.’  The evacuation ‘order’ remains voluntary.  It just means that the new storms are being monitored very carefully.
    If I lived in the direct floodplain there I would probably just pack up my most valuable things, secure everything else and go hang out on higher ground until the next storm passes.
     
     

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  • Thu, Feb 16, 2017 - 11:05am

    Reply to #25

    Cold Rain

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    Storm after Storm

    The latest GFS run continues to show storm after storm affecting the area for the next 15 days.  Looks like a lot of rainfall is on tap.  I do not know how much needs to fall within a specific period of time to present additional problems, but many inches appear to be in the cards over the upcoming days for the areas that will run off and pour into the lake.  And we had better hope they don’t have an earthquake any time soon.

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  • Thu, Feb 16, 2017 - 1:12pm

    #26

    Larry Frisa

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    Posts: 44

    A Golden Opportunity

    I would think that after the rains stop and the river level goes down, there will be a great opportunity to do some gold panning. All that erosion and silt has to result in re-depositing some gold flecks in the area. With all the heavy rains in Northern CA this winter, I’ve heard that those into gold panning will but out in force this summer. smiley

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  • Thu, Feb 16, 2017 - 8:56pm

    Reply to #26

    thatchmo

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    Oro ville

    I’m guessing that’s why they named it “Oroville”.  Gotta be some gold in them parts…..Aloha, Steve.

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  • Thu, Feb 16, 2017 - 9:20pm

    #27
    Time2help

    Time2help

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    Data Source


    OROVILLE DAM (ORO)
    Elevation: 900′ · FEATHER R basin · Operator: CA Dept of Water Resources/O & M
    Hourly Averages (Link)
    Daily Averages (Link)

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  • Thu, Feb 16, 2017 - 9:56pm

    #28
    Time2help

    Time2help

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    Oroville Reservoir Update 2/16/2017 (blancolirio - youtube)

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  • Fri, Feb 17, 2017 - 5:40am

    #29

    Cold Rain

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    Out of the woods?

    Looks like they’re not expecting the inflow to exceed the outflow over the next week or so, even with the rainfall that’s forecasted.  That, along with the repairs they’re making, they should be good to go.  Here’s the GFS total rainfall output for the next couple of weeks:

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  • Fri, Feb 17, 2017 - 6:26am

    #30

    Snydeman

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    If

    If I were in Oroville, I wouldn’t be trusting my and my family’s fate to forecasts and government assurances. I’d be using this time to gather and move out as much as possible to higher ground. The local authorities have shown more than once that they are a day late and a dollar short when it comes to warning the people adequately.

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  • Fri, Feb 17, 2017 - 10:27am

    #31

    Cold Rain

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    12z CMC 240 hr QPF

    Canadian model just went ballistic with rainfall for NorCal over the next 10 days.  The 12z GFS isn’t quite as wet, but it’s wetter than it’s 6z run and 0z run.

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  • Fri, Feb 17, 2017 - 11:48am

    #32

    sand_puppy

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    Posts: 2004

    Emergency Spillway Erosion Pic

    Taken Monday Feb 13.  This angle shows the depth of the erosion channels.

     

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  • Fri, Feb 17, 2017 - 12:37pm

    #33
    greendoc

    greendoc

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    Level dropped to 859 feet.

    Well its 12:20- PST and the Oroville reservoir level listed at 859 feet, so they almost got it down to the 850 feet they wanted before the rain.   http://rdcfeeds.redding.com/lakelevels/oro.cfm
    Judging by the rain we have been getting in Sonoma county all morning that will reverse soon as the storm makes it there. The storm that was supposed to arrive Thursday did not amount to much thankfully and there has been a long lull till now.  Snow level expected to be 6000.  Luckily the really heavy rain falling much furthur south for this system. 
    But we still have a long period of potential rain..into June not unheard of, and all that snowmelt  still to accomodate….most spots in Feather River Basin are close to or exceeding 100% of average.
    https://cdec.water.ca.gov/cgi-progs/snow/COURSES.02
     
    Maybe the engineers who designed the damn needed to plan for a 10,000 year event. But more than likely we are entering a cycle of unprecedented 1,000 year and 10,000 year events happening more often.  Welcome to the Anthropocene. 
     

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  • Sat, Feb 18, 2017 - 12:42am

    #34
    richcabot

    richcabot

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    Who Will Be Blamed if the Oroville Dam Fails?

    Here’s a good commentary from the Mises Institute.  Marc Reisner is the author of Cadillac Desert, probably the best book on water in the Western US.
    https://mises.org/blog/who-will-be-blamed-if-oroville-dam-fails

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  • Sat, Feb 18, 2017 - 4:14pm

    #35

    Chris Martenson

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    Not out of the woods?

    Certainly it seems that the situation at Oroville dam has stabilized and is well under control.  The water levels are way down, and seemingly safely so.
    However, there’s an indeterminate but probably significant amount of rain on the way.  Deserves watching, of course.

    So hopefully out of the woods, but there might be a few trees scattered about in our field of view yet.

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  • Sun, Feb 19, 2017 - 2:33pm

    #36

    Adam Taggart

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    Rainfall

    I live about 100 miles SW of Oroville, near the coast. The rains today have arrived in earnest.
    I’m checking the dam water level at Oroville hourly to see if/when it starts rising again. So far so good, but I expect a reversal to happen within the next few hours given the rain intensity.
    I’m a little surprised to see the rain inches accumulated at the Oroville dam haven’t changed in the past 4 hours, given that it’s been raining steadily all day where I live and that Oroville should be getting my weather within an hour or two. Perhaps this storm is just moving really slowly.

    Anyways, I’ll be surprised if the dam levels don’t start rising by nightfall.

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  • Sun, Feb 19, 2017 - 7:58pm

    Reply to #36

    Michael_Rudmin

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Jun 25 2014

    Posts: 880

    Adam, I'd expect a delay on levels.

    The real question, to my mind, is what is the ratio of the area that the lake drains, to the area of the lake? I suspect it’s very large: let’s have a hypothetical 10:1. So suppose 1/4″ falls on the lake. The 1/4″ is added immediately to the lake height, and by dam management may not even be seen.
    But then, over the rest of the land, the water hits the trees, and from the leaves drips down to the ground; and along the ground makes rivulets… and from thence to streams, and from streams to the rivers… I’ve seen the streams delay on a strong run for hours… rivers for a day. So I’d expect that you’d see 1/4″ the day of the storm on our hypothetical lake, and 2.5″ the next day, when it’s not even raining.
    In the same way, I don’t think you’ll see the big impact of your storms immediately… and when the storms are gone, you will see the levels still rising (assuming that they don’t fall suddenly).

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  • Sun, Feb 19, 2017 - 8:24pm

    Reply to #36

    Adam Taggart

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

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    Posts: 2686

    I largely agree

    Michael –
    I largely agree. Inflows to the lake will accelerate the longer the rains last as the runoff from all the regions and tributaries that flow into the lake compounds.
    When I lived in Palo Alto, there was a series of dams up in the Santa Cruz mountains that ultimately fed into the creeks in our town. While our creeks would flood from heavy storms, given the time it took for the water to flow down from elevation, oftentimes, they didn’t crest until many hours after the rains had stopped.
    But looking at the Oroville dam levels today, the rate of decrease has slowed dramatically, sometimes only dropping a few tenths of an inch per hour. With the storm system now here, a small increase in net inflow to the dam should be all it takes to start pushing the lake level back up.
    If that indeed happens, like you, I expect the rate of rise to then accelerate hourly over the next few days as the combined runoff from the surrounding watershed makes its way into the lake.

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  • Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - 4:02am

    #37

    suziegruber

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Dec 03 2008

    Posts: 136

    Two Great Sources of Weather Information

    Hi everyone,
    I want to share two great sources of as it happens weather information.  Once source I follow that is very specific to California is Daniel Swains’ Twitter feed.  He also has a great blog called Weather West.  Last night he posted about the possibility that the current atmospheric river hitting Northern California will stall particularly impacting the Santa Cruz mountains.
    Second, I track the comments section of the latest post on Wunderground’s Category 6 blog.  Many people post up to date information there.  This very early morning I find a disturbing post there from a meteorologist named Eric Holthaus warning of epic flooding in Northern California, particularly if the atmospheric river stalls. 
    So far it looks like the brunt of the storm is impacting areas south of Sonoma County where I live.  I hope everyone stays safe.
    –Suzie

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  • Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - 5:00am

    Reply to #37

    Chris Martenson

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

    Joined: Jun 07 2007

    Posts: 4797

    Whoa...let's repost that.

    suziegruber wrote:

    Second, I track the comments section of the latest post on Wunderground’s Category 6 blog.  Many people post up to date information there.  This very early morning I find a disturbing post there from a meteorologist named Eric Holthaus warning of epic flooding in Northern California, particularly if the atmospheric river stalls. 

    That’s a pretty dire scenario that Eric paints there.  I thought maybe we should reproduce it here, just in case.  Good find:

    Hi all,This is an urgent and important message, so I’ll keep it short. If you’re in a hurry, please read and retweet this message.If you have family or friends in northern or central California—please get in touch with them on Monday morning, or sooner. The seriousness of the potential flood that is inbound on Monday and Tuesday cannot be overstated. I just got off the phone with a NWS meteorologist at the Sacramento office, Bill Rasch, and he said they are increasingly concerned about the potential for the incoming atmospheric river to cause substantial or even historic flooding with little immediate notice. They are urging people to prepare to evacuate with less than 15 minutes warning, and expecting flooding in places that haven’t flooded in “many years.” As far as the this sort of dire wording, they have tentative plans to “take it up a notch” tomorrow—this is the real deal, a situation that likely hasn’t hit California in decades, or maybe much longer.

    cc5d558a-a91f-4b41-834f-625699c69e41.jpg
    Here’s what is causing so much concern: If the atmospheric river stalls, there could be up to a foot of rain in a span of about 36 hours over places that are already flooding—that’s a rainfall intensity that isn’t expected more than once a century, or even more rare. At risk is the vast network of levees and dams and diversions that literally make modern California what it is, and protect hundreds of thousands of people. If this system is compromised, the scale of disaster would be among the worst in U.S. history. A dire 2011 New York Times magazine piece outlines the scenario. It’s not pretty.
    The implications of this flood would be huge: If the levee system is breached, Sacramento could have 30ft of flooding, and much of the state’s water delivery system could be paralyzed by an influx of saltwater, including much of southern California. Two-thirds of people in the state could lose fresh water. That’s not to mention the potential loss of life. Of course, this is not a given based on the latest weather forecast—but the fact that it can’t be ruled out should cause everyone in the region to pay close attention.
    This is something that should be wall-to-wall national coverage, but I haven’t seen circulated much so far. Please help get the word out.
    Thank you so much,
    Eric

     

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  • Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - 6:31am

    #38

    Quercus bicolor

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Mar 19 2008

    Posts: 231

    forecast

    Here is the GFS precipitation forecast from last nights 06 UTC (10 PM PST) forecast for hours 0-48:

    Yellow is 7″+, mustard is 6″+, orange is 5″+, red-orange 4″+ and orange 3″+.  The heaviest precipitation is near Tahoe, but the Feather River area is close behind, with smaller areas of 7″+.  Most of that precipitation is forecast to fall in the first 24 hours.
    Current snow levels are nearly 7000′.  Here are temperatures in the Feather River basin right now:
    To see current values, go to: http://mesowest.utah.edu/cgi-bin/droman/mesomap.cgi?state=CA&rawsflag=3 Select “all networks” and click “Refresh Map” in the control panel at left, then zoom and pan as appropriate.  Click on each station to see it’s elevation in the gray bar at the top of the pop up window.  Currently most 32° stations are just below 7000′ which is higher than most of the terrain in the Feather River basin – so mostly rain now.
    Finally, the current radar image:

    Yes, heavier precipitation in the Tahoe area, but not by much.

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  • Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - 9:59am

    #39

    ckessel

    Status Silver Member (Offline)

    Joined: Nov 12 2008

    Posts: 172

    Local weather - Sonora

    It is raining hard here in the Sierras this morning. So far my permaculture swales are full to the brim and holding. The seasonal stream running through my front yard is peaking and has formed a whirlpool about 6″ above the top of a 30″ diameter culvert running beneath the driveway. That has not happened since I moved here in 1985!
    But I live about 1500′ above the Tuolumne River so that brings a measure of relief. It is wet but there is no chance of the house being flooded ….. as long as the roof stays on!
    The Don Pedro Reservoir (on the Tuolumne River which drains Northern Yosemite Park) may spill its emergency spillway this afternoon. That has only occurred  once before since it was constructed in the 1960s. That happened in 1997 during a rain on snow event in the Western Sierras. If that happens again it will take several days for the floodwaters to migrate West into the California Delta region which is already at flood stage this morning. Expect things to develop fast in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta Region today and tomorrow.
    It is amazing how fast we have transitioned from a multi year drought into a major wet year with flooding events. Be prepared, changing times are certainly upon us everywhere.
    Coop

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  • Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - 11:54am

    #40

    Quercus bicolor

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    Posts: 231

    24 hour precipitation ending 4 AM PST today


    The 2 inch plus region more or less corresponds with the upper feather river basin.  Just through 4 AM PST this morning.
    source

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  • Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - 2:14pm

    #41

    Quercus bicolor

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

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    Posts: 231

    rain gage observations ending 2 PM PST

    Here is the 24 hour rain gage observations ending 21:57 UTC (1:57 PM PST) for today, 2/20/17.  This includes all networks.  Some stations might not be well maintained and could be reporting bad data.

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  • Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - 3:35pm

    #42

    Adam Taggart

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    Posts: 2686

    Oroville Dam level rising again

    For the first time in a week, the water level in the Oroville Dam is now rising (very slighty):

    As mentioned in earlier comments, this rise will likely accelerate over the coming hours/days due to continued rains and runoff from the surrounding watershed.
    Fortunately, the engineers there were able to get the lake level down below their safety target of 850 feet, so there’s substantial buffer space in place. Now, it’s just a matter of how much more rain Mother Nature wants to dump into the watershed over the next few days.
    At this point, things are looking better for Oroville (though worse for other parts of California). But we’ll keep monitoring the situation closely…

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  • Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - 3:42pm

    #43

    Wendy S. Delmater

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    Joined: Dec 13 2009

    Posts: 1418

    Even if the dams hold...


    Yes, I said dams, plural – the above pic is of the Anderson Dam, just south of San Jose, which is now using its spillway. 
    Even if the Oroville Dam holds, the flooding down river looked exactly like what we dealt with in SC two Octobers ago. Undermined roads, drowned cars, 2-3 foot wide creeks flooding adjacent houses and businesses, usually tiny streams cresting at 15-10 ft. 

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  • Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - 5:45pm

    #44

    suziegruber

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Dec 03 2008

    Posts: 136

    Don Pedro Spillway Is Open; Heavy Winds Coming

    The spillway on the Don Pedro reservoir in the central valley was opened around 3pm today.  The water released is already spilling over roads.  Dramatic images from the Toulomne Sherriff’s Department.  Bob Henson at Wunderground posted today about the high rainfall totals in the southern Bay Area and high winds that will come with the back end of this storm system and affect a broad area.  They are expecting lots of power outages.  It will be an opportunity for folks to test their preparedness. 

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  • Mon, Feb 20, 2017 - 8:30pm

    #45

    Larry Frisa

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 21 2009

    Posts: 44

    Levee Break

    At 8 pm Pacific Time there’s report of a levee break near Manteca.

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  • Tue, Feb 21, 2017 - 2:11pm

    #46

    Grover

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    Joined: Feb 15 2011

    Posts: 695

    Update from Juan Browne

    Yesterday, Juan Browne posted this video. He got access to the DWR spokesman. Then, he summarized their conversation in the attached 6 minute video. Highlights:
    Work is progressing on the emergency spillway. Four primary areas were targeted. Work on these 4 primary areas is between 60% and 100% complete. Although work is being done to armor the emergency spillway, it will only be used as a last option when the power plant and regular spillway cannot remove enough water. [My advice to anyone downstream … if it ever gets to the point that water crests the emergency spillway, you should have gotten the HELL out while you could! Keep a close eye on water levels and set personal trigger points for actions. If you wait for an official pronouncement, there will be no opportunity to get through the gridlock to safety.]
    A barge is being built below the dam’s toe in the tail water to carry an excavator that will clean out the debris from the spillway washout. This work will be done to lower the tail water so the power plant can be operated.
    The power plant is not connected to the grid and cannot function until the tail water is lowered and new electrical connections to the grid are installed. Water cannot flow past the penstocks until these 2 conditions are met.
    Grid power to the spillway gates has been cut. Power to operate the gates is being supplied by generators.
    Weather is cooling down which should minimize snow melt for the time being. Water levels in the lake are down about 50′ from the emergency spillway crest. [Just checked https://cdec.water.ca.gov/cgi-progs/queryF?s=ORO and water level is at 852.25′ on 2/21/2017 at 1 PM PST. That’s up about 3′ since yesterday morning. Not bad, given all of yesterday’s rain.]

    Grover

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  • Mon, Feb 27, 2017 - 7:25pm

    #47

    Larry Frisa

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 21 2009

    Posts: 44

    The Aftermath

    Now that the water emergency is over, here’s some photos showing the damage caused by the spillway erosion.
    http://www.kcra.com/article/10-photos-show-extensive-damage-at-oroville-
     

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  • Mon, Feb 27, 2017 - 8:25pm

    Reply to #47

    Chris Martenson

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

    Joined: Jun 07 2007

    Posts: 4797

    Wow. That's some damage!

    Mr. Fri wrote:

    Now that the water emergency is over, here’s some photos showing the damage caused by the spillway erosion.
    http://www.kcra.com/article/10-photos-show-extensive-damage-at-oroville-

    In addition to those photos, I found this which I grabbed from a fly-by someone did:

    That spillway is 50% gone….

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  • Tue, Feb 28, 2017 - 1:36pm

    #48

    Larry Frisa

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 21 2009

    Posts: 44

    Close up

    Here’s a close up of the damage from the link I gave above. Note how small the trucks are (on the left side) compared to the canyon that was carved out. I don’t know much about dam construction but I do know it’s going to take a lot of truckloads of filler material to repair the spillway.

     
     

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  • Tue, Feb 28, 2017 - 11:41pm

    #49

    Grover

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 15 2011

    Posts: 695

    Normal Sized People?

    http://www.appeal-democrat.com/news/repair-work-continues-at-oroville-dam/article_7c92f1fc-fe20-11e6-9b2e-c72c976f9569.html
    This is a photo of about 20 people at the bottom of the Oroville Dam spillway. This thing is huge!
    Oroville Dam

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  • Wed, Mar 01, 2017 - 3:35am

    Reply to #48

    Chris Martenson

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

    Joined: Jun 07 2007

    Posts: 4797

    Re: Close up

    Mr. Fri wrote:

    Here’s a close up of the damage from the link I gave above. Note how small the trucks are (on the left side) compared to the canyon that was carved out. I don’t know much about dam construction but I do know it’s going to take a lot of truckloads of filler material to repair the spillway.

    I wonder how many helicopter loads?  😉
    I’ve heard estimates of between one half and a full million cubic yards of missing material.
    If it’s a million and a truck can haul 20 yards, then that’s only 50,000 truckloads. :0
    But we should also remember that those same million missing yards of material aren’t missing at all.  They are in the river bed below and will need to be removed from there to open the channel back up.
    Maybe they can build a conveyor belt to take the material from point A to point B?

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  • Wed, Mar 01, 2017 - 4:50am

    #50

    davefairtex

    Status Diamond Member (Online)

    Joined: Sep 03 2008

    Posts: 3250

    channeling Peter Sellers

    “But that’s a Priceless Spillway!”
    “Not anymore.”

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  • Wed, Mar 01, 2017 - 10:30am

    #51

    sand_puppy

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

    Joined: Apr 13 2011

    Posts: 2004

    More "Normal Sized People"


    Base of the main spillway.

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  • Thu, Mar 02, 2017 - 10:50am

    #52

    sand_puppy

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

    Joined: Apr 13 2011

    Posts: 2004

    Photos and short videos of the dam and spillway

    Very dramatic and clear photos of the Oroville Dam and Spillway.
    https://imgur.com/gallery/mpUge

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  • Thu, Mar 02, 2017 - 1:39pm

    #53

    Grover

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 15 2011

    Posts: 695

    Latest Juan Browne Video

    Here’s the latest video from Juan Browne dated 3/1/2017. It is about 27 minutes long. Juan shows the current work progressing to remove debris from under the eroded spillway and gives a good description of the work needed to relocate the power lines so the Hyatt power plant can be reconnected. Then, he visits other infrastructure associated with the Oroville dam complex.
    Some highlights:
    The washout from the spillway generated approximately 1 1/2 million cubic yards of debris.
    In the day and a half that the spillway has been shut off, about 60 thousand cubic yards of debris have been excavated.
    The goal is to get a channel formed so that water can flow through the Hyatt power plant down to the Feather river.
    Temporary power lines have been relocated and hooked up to the Hyatt power plant. As soon as the channel is sufficiently cleared, water can once again flow through the power plant.
    Water stored in the Forebay and Afterbay is being released at 2500 CFS into the Feather River to keep the river alive.
    There is at least 1 week of water storage remaining in these bays.

    There is an enormous amount of work remaining to be done. If a channel can be opened enough for the power plant to work, water levels in the reservoir can be moderated by using this release mechanism. (I heard that only 5 of 6 turbines were functioning. That might limit discharge rates.) While the power plant operates, crews can still work on removing debris from the spillway damage.
    With 1.5 million cubic yards of debris and 40,000 cubic yards/day of removal, it would take almost 40 days to remove the debris pile. If the weather holds, this is very doable. The normal wet season ends in about a month. After that, snow pack melt will be the issue of concern. For now, the future looks much better than it did just a couple of weeks ago. Of course, mother nature always bats last.
    Grover
    PS – sand_puppy, that link in your post #71 is a great summary in pictures of the calamity. Thumbs Up!

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  • Thu, Mar 02, 2017 - 4:57pm

    Reply to #3
    rgd44

    rgd44

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: Dec 05 2012

    Posts: 6

    More "Optimism"

    To underscore davefairtex’s point, as a software project manager, I have many times seen engineers, when asked to state an estimated project delivery date, say “Well, if everything goes right, it will be ready by XXX.”
    Of course, assuming that everything goes right is assuming, by definition, a statistically improbable scenario.
    And maybe that scenario is about as probable as assuming that everything goes wrong 🙂 .
    But it’s good to look optimistic to the Big Boss. And I don’t ever recall hearing the Big Boss reply, “What if not everything goes right?”. Much harder (and scary) question to answer.

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  • Thu, Mar 02, 2017 - 8:02pm

    #54

    Barnbuilder

    Status Member (Offline)

    Joined: May 07 2014

    Posts: 23

    Pretty stunning video of damage

    Here is the drone video mentioned in the video posted above.

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  • Fri, Mar 03, 2017 - 10:06pm

    #55

    Grover

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 15 2011

    Posts: 695

    Juan Browne 3/3/2017 - Turning Point

    Here is the latest Juan Browne video for those of us who can’t get enough. This video is 7 minutes long. It is only kitchen table shots – no field report. Here are the highlights:
    The Hyatt power plant is marginally operational now. That means that electrical lines have been relocated and that the debris filled channel has been excavated sufficiently to allow some water to flow. As of the time of video posting, about 2,500 CFS were flowing. The goal was to have it ramped up to 3,000 CFS by the end of the day. With only 5 of 6 turbines available, max flow is about 14,000 CFS
    Reservoir elevations about 849 feet. Still have about 50 feet of freeboard.
    Debris field quantity has been re-estimated to 1.7 million cubic yards. So far, 168,000 cubic yards have been moved – about 10%.
    Some temporary repair work is being done on main spillway blowout. The immediate goal is to minimize head cutting. If spillway is needed, flows will likely be ramped up to 40,000 CFS (or more) to move water off spillway and diving into plunge pool in order to minimize head cutting erosion on the busted spillway.
    Precipitation for the last few months has been a “100 year event.”
    Emergency evacuation warning remains in effect. Will be removed when 1) emergency spillway has been armored (complete), 2) power plant is fully functional, and 3) reservoir elevation is at 850′ or lower.

    Getting water to flow through the power plant is a BIG accomplishment. Work will continue to excavate the debris field. The goal is to have enough water exit the power plant that reservoir levels can be kept in check. They don’t want to use the main spillway unless absolutely necessary.
    Grover

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  • Mon, Mar 06, 2017 - 8:53am

    #56
    Time2help

    Time2help

    Status Platinum Member (Offline)

    Joined: Jun 08 2011

    Posts: 2272

    Sense of scale

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  • Mon, Mar 06, 2017 - 11:43am

    #57

    Grover

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 15 2011

    Posts: 695

    Were We Just Lucky?

    Here is a 3 minute video of work being done over the weekend. Crews are continuing to remove debris out of the river channel. Others are spraying shotcrete under the busted spillway to keep it from head cutting and eroding more when they need to release water down the spillway.
    There is a short speeded up sequence of debris excavation at about 1:40. The heavy equipment looks like just so many ants. That made me wonder what would have happened here if the economy wasn’t functioning. Where would the fuel to operate the equipment come from? Who would stay behind to operate the dam if there weren’t any monetary incitement? Do the operators have a plan for a lights-out scenario?
    I read that this was a “hundred year storm.” If so, it should occur on average once every 100 years. Will we be ready the next time this happens? Will we have a functioning economy/available fuel to repair the damage and prevent more catastrophic damage? What if the next storm is a 1,000 year storm or a 10,000 year storm … or bigger and more widespread? What will happen to anyone unfortunate enough to be downstream of this dam or any other dam when it bursts?
    Grover

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  • Thu, Mar 09, 2017 - 4:48pm

    #58

    Grover

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 15 2011

    Posts: 695

    Latest From Juan Browne

    Here is Juan Browne’s latest video dated 3/9/2017. It has more good news. Water is flowing through the Hyatt power plant. Enough debris has been removed from the river channel to allow at least 4 of the 6 turbines to operate. (Latest DWR data has 11933 cfs outflow and reservoir elevation at 859.92′.) Weather is also cooperating with cold nights, mild days, and no rain in the forecast. New arbitrary reservoir elevation trigger for opening spillway is set to 865′. (It was arbitrarily set to 860′ until this latest change.)

    https://cdec.water.ca.gov/cgi-progs/queryF?s=ORO
    OROVILLE DAM (ORO)
    Station comments:
    02/23/2017
    Outflow from Oroville includes all releases from the Oroville Dam (i.e.: Hyatt, spillway, low flow outlet), while River Release (RIV REL) pertains to the Oroville Complex as a whole which includes any releases from the Diversion Dam gates and Thermalito Afterbay River Outlet.
     
    Query executed Thursday at 16:26:24
    Provisional data, subject to change.
    Select a sensor type for a plot of data.
    Earlier
     
    Date   /   Time  
    RES ELE  
     
    STORAGE  
     
    OUTFLOW  
     
    INFLOW  
     
    RIV REL  
     
    RAIN  
     
    BAT VOL  
     
    (PST)
    FEET
     
    AF
     
    CFS
     
    CFS
     
    CFS
     
    INCHES
     
    VOLTS
     
    03/09/2017 05:00
    859.59
     
    2939067
     
    8730
     
    5997
     
    4957
     
    39.48
     
    13.4
     
    03/09/2017 06:00
    859.64
     
    2939760
     
    8781
     
    7591
     
    4956
     
    39.48
     
    13.4
     
    03/09/2017 07:00
    859.68
     
    2940313
     
    8727
     
    7731
     
    4936
     
    39.48
     
    13.4
     
    03/09/2017 08:00
    859.71
     
    2940729
     
    8725
     
    6226
     
    4969
     
    39.48
     
    13.4
     
    03/09/2017 09:00
    859.75
     
    2941283
     
    8690
     
    6794
     
    5616
     
    39.48
     
    13.4
     
    03/09/2017 10:00
    859.77
     
    2941560
     
    8716
     
    6283
     
    5637
     
    39.48
     
    13.4
     
    03/09/2017 11:00
    859.80
     
    2941976
     
    10314
     
    4309
     
    5646
     
    39.48
     
    13.4
     
    03/09/2017 12:00
    859.83
     
    2942392
     
    10260
     
    5247
     
    5638
     
    39.48
     
    13.4
     
    03/09/2017 13:00
    859.85
     
    2942669
     
    10260
     
    3490
     
    5623
     
    39.48
     
    13.4
     
    03/09/2017 14:00
    859.88
     
    2943085
     
    10286
     
    4657
     
    5682
     
    39.48
     
    13.4
     
    03/09/2017 15:00
    859.91
     
    2943500
     
    11882
     
    15831
     
    8481
     
    39.48
     
    13.4
     
    03/09/2017 16:00
    859.92
     
    2943639
     
    11933
     
    15098
     
    8537
     
    39.48
     
    13.4

    Now for the bad news. Current estimates are that the emergency repairs are costing $4.7 million per day. Fortunately, 75-90% of the cost will be reimbursed by FEMA. Whew! And I thought someone would have to pay for it.
    Grover

    http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/03/09/oroville-dam-dwr-says-repair-cost-estimated-at-4-7-million-per-day/
    On Wednesday afternoon, Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, said he was expecting to hear about costs accrued, as the DWR met with the Federal Emergency Management Agency earlier Wednesday to discuss repair and maintenance costs related to damage of the spillways.
    Curtis Grima, Gallagher’s chief of staff, later said in an email that according to conversations with DWR officials, the estimated daily average cost is $4.7 million.
    It is estimated that between 75 percent-90 percent of the cost will be reimbursed by FEMA, Grima’s email said.

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  • Sat, Mar 11, 2017 - 1:35pm

    #59

    Grover

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 15 2011

    Posts: 695

    Juan Browne Update 3/10/2017

    Here’s Juan’s latest video (about 17 minutes) dated 3/10/17. He talks about the current state of the situation – river elevation about 860′, flow through Hyatt power plant near 13,000 CFS, about 715,000 cubic yards of debris from spillway washout removed, and all operations are continuing. With the snow melt, there is more inflow than outflow. The spillway will likely be operated again to keep water from flowing over the emergency spillway.
    He also delves into some of the specifics of the dam. It is an interesting video.

    Grover
    PS – A few days ago, I tried to post one of these videos with a table from the DWR site and a link to a news source about estimated costs being $4.7 million per day. I was blocked by the spam checker. Mollom, the spam checker is an almost perfect analog to why regulating systems don’t work. It gums up the system for legitimate posters and spammers alike. The smart spammers figure out how to circumvent the system. The rest of us end up being punished. Sadly, it makes me think twice before I consider posting some good information.

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  • Sat, Mar 18, 2017 - 12:24am

    #60

    Grover

    Status Gold Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 15 2011

    Posts: 695

    Water Flowing Again Through Damaged Spillway

    Here is the latest video from Juan Browne. It is 19 minutes 20 seconds long. Water starts flowing at 0:50. By 10:13, the flow is running at 50,000 CFS. The rest of the video is Juan explaining the whatnots worth considering.
    Water has started flowing through the damaged spillway again. Water elevation in the reservoir was 864 feet earlier in the day. Officials intend to operate the spillway for 4 or 5 days or until the reservoir elevation drops to 838 feet. Because of the damage to the spillway, flow rates need to be about 40,000 CFS to keep from head cutting the spillway any more. That means that the spillway will have to be used as an on/off switch – at least during this run. The Hyatt power plant has been shut off for the time being to prevent damage from too high tail water.
    Costs for repairing the damage have been averaging $4.7 million per day. According to Juan Browne, approximately $100 million has been spent to date. Those costs will only go up from here. Plans for a temporary fix and a permanent fix for the spillway should be available in 2 weeks. The reason they need both is because a permanent fix will take more than a year and they may have a similar situation occur next year.
    Grover

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  • Sat, Apr 15, 2017 - 12:24pm

    #61

    Larry Frisa

    Status Bronze Member (Offline)

    Joined: Feb 21 2009

    Posts: 44

    CA Won't Tell How Bad the Dam Really Is

    I’m not sure if anyone is following this topic but it looks like the California government doesn’t want known how bad the real situation is with the dam.

    “We in Northern California know many things about Oroville Dam we likely didn’t know before a near failure of its emergency spillway Feb. 12 grabbed our attention.
    It’s the tallest dam in the country. It is California’s second-largest reservoir. It holds way more water than anyone wants to think about rushing at their home – in technical terms, 3.5 million acre-feet…”
    “Despite broad public interest, Brown’s administration is using federal security regulations designed to protect us from terrorism to keep key documents private. It is a convenient and giant loophole given the true danger here is from Mother Nature and officials who have not moved quickly enough to ensure Oroville Dam is safe. Given the serious nature of February’s near failure, the fair question for the public to ask now is this: Why should we trust state officials to do this work with little public scrutiny?”

    I guess in all fairness, information on the weaknesses of a dam could be used by bad guys. But, there might be more to the situation than politicians want us to see. Here’s the article from the Sacramento Bee. They also have a great video of the damage. 
    Dear California water officials: After Orville Dam scare, why should we trust you?
    http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/opn-columns-blogs/joyce-terhaar/article144534874.html

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