Mar 6, 2017
Last month’s heavy damage to the main concrete spillway at the massive Oroville Dam in Northern California was “an accident waiting to happen from Day One,” said Don Colson, a retired engineer, who worked on the design of the dam in the 1960s. It caused the emergency evacuation of 200,000 residents.
As Colson pointed out to the Los Angeles Times, the original design of the spillway was flawed; it was not built to withstand the force of massive amounts of roiling water traveling at more than 50 miles per hour that can chew through concrete and even steel. Nor was the spillway properly maintained or repaired; even the soil and rocks that support the heavy structure were eroded and damaged by the roots of trees and by water running downhill outside the spillway.
This failure of Oroville’s main spillway was compounded when the emergency spillway also crumbled when it was put to use. The emergency spillway had never been repaired and reinforced, despite the warnings of engineers and scientists 12 years before.
These structural failures within the Oroville Dam are no surprise. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has classified 14,000 dams in this country as “high hazard potential.” These include the biggest, most spectacular dams. The spillways at Hoover Dam have been used twice, and both times they sustained heavy damage, similar to what happened at Oroville. Glen Canyon Dam, also on the Colorado River, sustained massive damage in 1983, when its underground spillways were put in use.
The entire infrastructure of dams and levees is supposed to provide safety and security. Instead, because the government has been constantly shifting funding away from infrastructure funding in order to funnel money to the capitalist class through tax breaks and subsidies, the dams and levees are crumbling, making future floods and catastrophes inevitable.