The Oroville Dam is in a world of hurt.
So, I think about water a lot. I think about where it comes from , where it goes, and what it does on the way. I read Cadillac Desert. I don’t imagine that makes me an expert on dams in the western US, but it does give a good introduction to the subject. And what it tells me is that dams are one hell of a mixed bag. They allow the deserts to bloom, as long as the people who designed the dam chose the right spot to put the dam, and the right type of dam and built it to store all the water that it could be expected to hold, even accounting for once-in-a-millennium floods, and made provisions for releasing the water safely in an emergency. Then the dam has to be built to spec and maintained faithfully. And it has to be integrated into the existing and changing network of dams and irrigation in the west. And all of this is complicated. I’d even go so far as to say, really fucking complicated.
The Oroville dam is at 100% capacity. It can’t hold any more water. So they release water down the spillway. But it’s cracked and can’t take the amount of water that needs to be released. So they have opened the emergency spillway. Which isn’t concrete lined and is eroding fast enough that smart dam-operating people are worried the entire hillside could collapse which would release all the water in the reservoir at once. One term that stuck me as memorable was “30 foot tall wall of water” So they reduced the flow to the emergency spillway. So the water level in the reservoir is rising and more rainstorms are expected soon. So there is an evacuation order in place and 200,000 people downstream of the dam have to find a new place to sleep for a week, or worst case, permanently.
So the current administration might get a crisis sooner than it wants, and from a direction they didn’t anticipate. And to bring it back to our Sadly, No themes and one of my particular hobby horses, this is exactly what Victor Davis Hanson is talking about when he uses the phrase “wisdom of our forefathers”. He argues all the goddamn time that the only thing California needs to solve its ongoing water issues is to build more dams. Like their forefathers did. a-tale-of-four-droughts asshole.