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Why this Orville Dam crisis affects Southern California




The California Department of Water Resources stopped the spillway flow on Thursday morning to allow engineers to evaluate the integrity of the structure after water had been released at 20,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) through the night. There is no imminent or expected treat to public safety or the integrity of Oroville Dam at the Butte County site. 

After conferring with State and federal dam safety entitles, DWR decided to increase the release volume to 35,000 cfs to help operators absorb the inflow of the storm waters expected today and Friday. More erosion is  also expected. Photo taken February 9, 2017. 

Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water
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The California Department of Water Resources stopped the spillway flow on Thursday morning to allow engineers to evaluate the integrity of the structure after water had been released at 20,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) through the night. There is no imminent or expected treat to public safety or the integrity of Oroville Dam at the Butte County site. After conferring with State and federal dam safety entitles, DWR decided to increase the release volume to 35,000 cfs to help operators absorb the inflow of the storm waters expected today and Friday. More erosion is also expected. Photo taken February 9, 2017. Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water Resources
Kelly M. Grow/California Department of Water Resources

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The events in Oroville could be a preview of more problems to come.

With overall climate patterns becoming more extreme...our water infrastructure is going to face a variety of new challenges.

Is it up to the task, or will we see more failures like the problems at Oroville in the future?

Mark Gold is UCLA Associate Vice Chancellor of Environment and Sustainability. He spoke with A Martinez about the role of climate change in the future of infrastructure.

Interview Highlights

What's the teachable moment for SoCal following the events in Oroville?

"What we really need to do as soon as possible is to do a vulnerability assessment of really all our water infrastructure in the state of California. Because, whether it's going to be due to earthquake or severe climate variation with these extreme storms or the drought problems that we've been having. I think its shone a tremendous amount of vulnerability in the system that we really need to take into account and so pretty scary times indeed when you look at what's at stake up in Oroville."

So we all know that the state has had prolonged periods of drought with now extreme rain, but can you walk us through why these weather patterns put such a strain on our water infrastructure?

"The extreme variation that we're seeing in climate which is sort of looking into the future of what California is going to see more frequently...its really put a strain on water infrastructure because we really didn't think that this level of extremes could happen. Especially so close together. To think that the five year drought was obviously in California recorded history and that was really difficult and made you realize the way we manage water from a year to year basis in the state all too often rather than taking the long view has really been a problem. And so getting more from climate science to take the longer view of how to manage our water so that we can better prepare for these extremes. The bottom line is: these extremes are not what gets prepared for. We sort of look back at history and say, 'what happened in the last 50 years to our system? Are we prepared for that?' But we don't really look forward with the understanding that things could actually be a lot more extreme...that is more than likely the new normal in California."

What kind of things do we have to do to be climate resilient when it comes to our water infrastructure?

"Redundancy, relying more on local water, ensuring that our local water infrastructure actually can withstand these sorts of extreme events in the inevitable onset of sea level rise which causes problems with sea water intrusion into our groundwater basins along the coast...those are some of the things that we really need to do and since California is such a populous state and water supply, we have a pretty large infrastructure, really making sure we build in that resilience is absolutely critical."

To listen to the full segment, click the blue play button above.