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Oroville Dam Threatens To Collapse

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

THOUSANDS ORDERED TO EVACUATE AFTER OROVILLE DAM PREDICTED TO FAIL

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

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

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

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


Sun, Feb 12, 2017 - 9:41pm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oops. No good choices left here.

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

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


Sun, Feb 12, 2017 - 10:03pm

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

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

Hopefully the bedrock stops the process before failure. 

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Cahill (update 1)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Cahill (original) (Source)


Mon, Feb 13, 2017 - 6:47am

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

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

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

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

(Source)

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

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


Mon, Feb 13, 2017 - 7:21am

rhare wrote:

cmartenson wrote:

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

Not the first, depending on your definition of modern wink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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79 Comments

dryam2000's picture
dryam2000
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"Fake News"

This situation did not develop overnight.  I've been following this story very closely over the entire past week via the reporting of average folks posting on a precious metals website I follow.   Yes, I have been following "Fake News" on a fairly obscure website.....call me a communist.  Many people have been saying the official narrative has differed greatly from reality.  As recently as Sunday morning the officials were saying all is well & there's no need for people to evacuate.  Then, suddenly at 5pm on Sunday night they give the command to evacuate immediately as a complete dam collapse could be imminent.  The past few days there have many reports of dam webcams being disabled, or being turned in directions away from the dam.  My sense is the officials wanted to have as much control over the narrative as possible for unknown reasons.  Bottom line, it does not pay to be reliant on the MSM and the official narrative as this is as faked & contrived as anything else.  

Never a FB person, here's a live video feed from one of the local news stations....

https://www.facebook.com/KCRA3/videos/vb.115763581513/10155026580966514/...

Btw, my understanding is the evacuation is for over 200,000 people.  

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I agree...this did not develop overnight...worse than fake

dryam2000 wrote:

This situation did not develop overnight.  I've been following this story very closely over the entire past week via the reporting of average folks posting on a precious metals website I follow.   Yes, I have been following "Fake News" on a fairly obscure website.....

(...)

Btw, my understanding is the evacuation is for over 200,000 people.  

I totally agree, the situation did not develop overnight...what did develop overnight was the sudden announcement that things went from "no problems" to "RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!!"

This is precisely what we saw with Fukushima as well.  The lesson is that the government has this weird aversion to 'freaking people out' and so they routinely err so far in the other direction that they put people's lives at risk.

Which means we have to rely first and foremost on ourselves.

I was not tracking this all that closely until yesterday, but I should have been.  Like most people, I was alert to the spillway overtopping but I had not dug into the particulars of that dam and what that might mean.

Note that the video that I linked to first was tracking the situation very closely and well in advance.  So, once again, citizen news is way better than MSM news that is so defective and context free it's actually worse than fake.

At least fake is obvious.

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cmartenson
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A flooding update

From Reddit:

A number of roads in the Oroville area are closed this morning due to flooding. Those commuting to Sacramento will need to take the I-5.

Highway 99 is closed from Durham-Pentz road to south of Yuba City and Highway 70 is closed from Highway 149 to south of Yuba City.

All roads below the Oroville spillway elevation in Oroville, Thermalito, Biggs, and Gridley south to the Butte County line are closed as well.

If you are commuting south from the Chico area take highway 32 to I-5 south. Avoid roadways west of Chico typically used to access I-5 south as they are closed due to flooding. These roads included Sacramento Avenue, River Road, Ord Ferry Road, Aguas Frias Road, and Seven Mile Lane. We also want to remind you to leave extra time for commuting this morning as roadways will likely be crowded.

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cmartenson
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Water levels dropping quickly...

This is good news...

Water levels are dropping rapidly.  Now to see what the storms bring...

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cmartenson
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Situation now looks stabilized

Here's the latest press conference (pulled from Reddit):

Press conference notes:

  • Water will continue to be discharged at 100,000 cfs and the goal is to lower the lake level 50'.

  • If the emergency spillway failed a 30' wall of water would flow out of the lake (as described by /u/psykh85 earlier).

  • List of areas under evacuation orders and number of people impacted.

  • Sheriff says there has been no looting or shots fired reported to him or sheriffs he has spoken with. Prior to the evacuation there was a burglary that possibly caused those incorrect rumors.

  • Evacuations are going to continue and law enforcement is in the evacuated areas to protect property.

  • List of shelters open and their capacity status. More shelters will be opened as needed. Most hotels in area are full

  • List of road closures in area and travel updates

  • There is no more water going over the emergency spillway and the DWR has been effective at reducing the risk of a failure.

  • DWR will need time to evaluate the situation to determine when it will be safe for people to return to evacuated areas.

  • Local, state, and federal resources are working on the situation.

  • Bill Croyle (DWR Director): We are to going to continue to discharge as much water as possible to prepare for rainfall later in the week. As we assess our infrastructure and determine if we can push more water down stream we will do that. We will try to keep the discharge within the stream channel. The stream can handle about (150,000 cfs). We have not begun dropping rocks yet. The emergency spillway was never used before. The system was designed to handle 750,000 cfs without destroying the dam. "THE DAM IS SOLID". We determined we could not repair the primary spillway and knew there would be more damage. We are going to try to maintain the integrity of the existing infrastructure as much as possible. There is a strategy to preform a corrective measure to preserve the spillway if a window presents itself.

    • Sheriff will not lift evacuation order until more analysis and information is available to determine if he can do so.

-END OF PRESS CONFERENCE-

And here's a very telling comment from a different Reddit thread:

I and other engineers have been watching this materialize for a week. Nothing the DWR has said matches with what we've seen. NOTHING has been correct. They've been withholding and BS'ing people to the point that just yesterday they started calling the "Emergency Spillway" an "Auxiliary Spillway" to make it sound less scary. If lives are lost it'll be on the Department of Water Reclamation Resources. for a history of this cluster-f*&^ check my submission history.

Ha ha!  I was wondering about that shift from "emergency" to "auxiliary."

Thought I had somehow gotten things confused, but was just being purposely confused by people trying to calm me down.

Reminds me of "America is energy independent."  More confusion stemming from an attempt to make me feel better.  Doesn't work.  cheeky

dryam2000's picture
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The bad news…

The bad news is rain is coming Wednesday and for a couple days thereafter.

cmartenson's picture
cmartenson
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Also...keep in mind

Anybody living in the region that might be affected by a  giant wall of water from the Oroville dam should probably take the "it's all stabilized and under control" statements with a gigantic grain of salt.

They've pretty much lied or downplayed all of this very badly all he way through so it would take a really big leap of faith to think they are being 100% honest now.

I'm willing to bet there's an engineer or two out there on the scene who is screaming for the right to speak honestly with the public.

I'll be talking to and recording the dam expert Scott Cahill later today (from the initial captured post in the main article above) and will share that asap.  I'm thinking an outsider's view could be useful here...

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thc0655
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Everybody knows

"Everybody knows the dice are loaded.

Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed."

What's wrong with us humans?  If everybody knows the dice are loaded, why is anybody playing the game with them?  Why not quit and leave the game?

It's not just gambling and living downstream from failing dams which the government tells us are just fine.  It's our response to The Three E's: we keep rolling the dice instead of running for the hills.

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Crossposting previous comments

The comments below were originally posted under yesterday's Daily Digest as the situation in Oroville developed. Consolidating them here in order to have all of the information complied with Chris' post above.

Quercus bicolor wrote:

Let's look at what it took to get the lake to drop one foot in 23 hours.  The lake is perhaps just over 10 square miles or about 300,000,000 sq. ft.  So that's 300M cubic feet in about 83,000 seconds or just under 4000 cubic feet per second net (inflow - outflow) to achieve that.  But they were dumping 100,000 cu. ft./s over the spillway, so inflow averaged 96,000 cu. ft./s.

Now, they have about 3 days until Thursday when the rains begin in earnest or 260,000 seconds.  They need to drain 300,000,000 x 50 = 15 billion cubic feet of water or about 55-60,000 cu. ft/s net drainage rate.  They better hope the inflow drops to an average of  40,000 cu. ft./s if they keep up the 100,000 spill rate.  That doesn't sound to likely.

On to the rain:  Last 06 UTC (10 PM PST) GFS weather prediction model was predicting 5-10+ inches of precipitation in the Sierras from day 3 to 9

Not quite the 10-20 inches that fell over the past week:

The reservoir drains about 4000 sq miles or 110 billion square feet.  5 inches of precipitation makes for a bit under 50 billion cubic feet of water.  if it all runs off in one week (about 600,000 seconds), that would be 83,000 cu. ft./s.  Of course some will fall as snow and won't run off til spring, but the peak flow rate will also likely be significantly higher than the average for a few days. 

Another look: Lowering the reservoir will free up about 15 billion cu. ft. or about 30% of the expected precipitation in the basin over the next 10 days.  I doubt they'll free up any more than 5-10 billion though.  Of course, they could drain 60 billion cubic feet over days 4-10 at 100,000 cubic feet/second and some will be stored as snow, so maybe things will work out.  But precipitation forecasts of that magnitude 4-10 days out are subject to significant error too.  An then there's the question of whether the existing damaged spillways shored up by whatever reinforcement they can do over the next few days can sustain 100,000 cubic feet/s without failing.

Wendy S. Delmater wrote:
Migod - all of the research I am doing for this book (fiction, but involves a mine collapse) says calcite seams are the worst, most unstable.... We'd better hope that's not what they have under that spillway at Oroville.

fated wrote:

Confidence - Nil.

T2H - that clip reminds me of the insignificance of the response humans were able to make to the Hazelwood mine fire, even with their 'advanced' firefighting technologies. Those choppers seem huge, imposing, and all powerful while on the airfield or flying over your house - but pale into nothingness once they have a significant natural backdrop behind them. If I were starving and they were making food drops - yes I'd be happy with their capabilities. But them sorting large scale natural disasters quickly - I've seen the ineffectiveness first hand.

helicopters from 3.30 on.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s-j3XWSXnf8 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=svoYoAfz3Eg just for interest

Lies, denial and misinformation from the 'authorities' to the detriment of local residents.

I hope everyone over there is safe and this can be resolved ASAP.

Time2help wrote:

FYI as background. Seeing this would not inspire confidence (no reflection on the pilots/helicopter crew, they are doing their jobs/best).

Time2help wrote:

California State Water Project (Wikipedia)

Scroll down to the "Dams and Reservoirs" table and sort by capacity. Not sure what percentage of California's water supply this reservoir makes up, but it's 61% of the table below.

Quercus bicolor's picture
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almost 4 feet in a day ...

46 more to go in 3 days - that's over 15 feet a day.  As inflow decreases due to the dry weather, they should get more than 4 feet a day, but 15+?

cmartenson's picture
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Thank you for running the numbers

Quercus bicolor wrote:

46 more to go in 3 days - that's over 15 feet a day.  As inflow decreases due to the dry weather, they should get more than 4 feet a day, but 15+?

Great job running the numbers above.  

Also left un-mentioned is that the 100,000 CFS that they are currently dumping is coming out of the damaged spillway...they did this because they feared the undercutting of the emergency spillway more than the erosion of the main spillway.

So...as long as that 100,000 CFS doesn't begin to really eat in further...then they can continue to dump.  If that suddenly takes a turn for the worse, then decisions have to be made.  Slow down the dumping and hope for less rain and risk it all, or keep it up and risk it all?

No good choices there if that's how this plays out.

I think the helicoptering of miniscule bags of rocks into the breach tells us they are playing for every and any advantage they can, no matter how slight.

Who knows, the difference may well be the last bag placed?

Time2help's picture
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Workers Scramble To Plug Oroville Dam Hole Using Rocks, Sandbags

In Race Against Coming Storm, Workers Scramble To Plug Oroville Dam Hole Using Rocks, Sandbags (Zerohedge)

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Jeffleonard90@g...
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Feather River Headwaters

Here is video footage of the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Feather river.  Lots of snow early then a warm, wet storm moved through.  The combination of significant rainfall and snow melt caused over 200000 cfs of inflow into Lake Oroville.  

The Middle Fork of the Feather river at this point is usually not much more than a small creek surrounded by dry sagebrush cattle range.

I am also a Fire Fighter in the Bay Area, we were dispatched late last night to Oroville, but were quickly canceled.  

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Real Life Preping

I just happened upon the news of the evacuation as it was occurring last night. Found the Sacramento, Fox affiliate online and watched mesmerized for an hour.  Within minutes every exit road from the towns below the damn were stopped dead with overflow traffic.  There were police to help direct but their presence seemed really thin.  Reporters were interviewing people through the windows of their cars stopped in traffic.  People spoke about leaving with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

Two things particularly amazed me.  No one seemed to have authority to make the highways move in only one direction.  One side would be blocked solid with traffic while the other two lanes would be empty for as far as the camera could show.  One reporter also described how traffic was flowing well on one state highway until it came into the center of a town where as series of stop lights slowed it to an absolute crawl. They couldn't reprogram the lights?  An evacuation from a supposed immediate danger was forced to stop and wait for lights to change for non-existent traffic at the intersections?  It it were not so horrifying it would be the basis for some joke about the stupidity of bureaucrats. 

The event woke me from my recent lethargy. Need to have the bug out bags ready, the important papers briefcase updated and ready to grab, the cars always full with three quarters of a tank of gas and, never, ever, rely on the powers that be to tell you the truth.  You must constantly view the situation for its own merits and take what steps you think are required without waiting for someone to tell you to move. 

JT

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Maybe it is helpful to think

Maybe it is helpful to think about this carefully in terms of the interaction between mass psychology/risk perception and response, and the timing and orientation of official government warnings.  Seems to me that when the threat is from potential catastrophes that recur within recent memory (I’m thinking hurricanes), the government errs on the side of caution (highly precautionary) regarding evacuation orders.  When it’s a relatively novel catastrophe (Teton Dam collapse in Idaho is way out of immediate recall for most), official warnings and responses are highly reactive and comparatively last-minute.  Perhaps this is related to some kind of normalcy bias with respect to our collective perceptions of risk.  Also, there appears to be cultural resistance in our institutions (and maybe society in general) to any evidence that clearly illustrates fallibility in industrial endeavors.

If so, we could deduce in a really coarse but perhaps helpful way what to expect and what not to expect in terms of official warnings, considering the nature of the impending calamity as it relates to our cultural memory and perceptions.

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Who Built the Faulty Dam?

Does anyone know who built the faulty dam?   Left me guess...uncoated rebar concrete.

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Stepping Back

Good point Chris on how we really have got to do a much better job of building critical infrastructure that lasts.  I agree wholeheartedly and you’re correct about the risk from deterioration of rebar-reinforced concrete.  Also important is your message about the mainstream press actually contributing to the danger by minimizing risk.  I agree again.  But I’m thinking that the most obvious, directly applicable message relates to our government’s responsibility to protect the public’s infrastructure through maintenance, inspection, and timely repair.  Even the most libertarian may acknowledge that this falls under an area of the ‘commons’ that our Federal government has a responsibility to maintain for all citizens.  Of anything that I pay my taxes for, it’s these kinds of things that I value the most because they truly are Federal issues that affect us all.  Which brings me to one of Trump’s most idiotic (and that’s saying a lot) actions to date – abolishing two regulations for every new regulation.  Many Federal regulations are in place to ensure our infrastructure integrity and protect workers.  I’d hate to see the dismantling of regulations that ensure proper licensing for engineers, OSHA safety regulations, mandatory periodic dam inspections, etc.  At a time when our infrastructure is getting a ‘D’ rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers, we don’t need the dismantling of the few systems in place that at least attempt to maintain structure integrity and workplace safety.

Just pointing this out because I’ve seen Trump’s move applauded by some on this site.  I don’t mean to make this political, just to point out the need to keep our government accountable (and funded) to do those things that it really exists for.

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Double down?

xango wrote:

Just pointing this out because I’ve seen Trump’s move applauded by some on this site.  I don’t mean to make this political, just to point out the need to keep our government accountable (and funded) to do those things that it really exists for.

Just curious, how does funding those that do a poor job in the past actually make them more accountable? Too me that seems kind of backwards.  

How come all those regulations (thousands upon thousands) didn't prevent this issue? 

Myself, I prefer not to double down on past failed methods, aka the status quo.

xango wrote:

But I’m thinking that the most obvious, directly applicable message relates to our government’s responsibility to protect the public’s infrastructure through maintenance, inspection, and timely repair.  Even the most libertarian may acknowledge that this falls under an area of the ‘commons’ that our Federal government has a responsibility to maintain for all citizens.

You are a bit wrong on that front.  Libertarian thought is more along the lines of the government should never be building things like this at all.  Stealing money to do large projects is not any different than stealing to do small projects.  If a dam is viable, it should be viable in the private sector - where you actually would have concern over longevity and not just who get's to claim the project by naming it or putting it on their political resume.

If you say, but then things like this wouldn't get done, I would say then maybe people would learn not to build houses in flood plains, or would not over populate areas that are unsustainable (aka Las Vegas, Phoenix, etc).  Government distorts what is reasonable because it steals the money as opposed to earning it or getting it voluntarily.

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Imminent Levee Breach in nearby area Tyler Island

Sacramento County is advising residents in the Tyler Island area south of Walnut Grove to evacuate.

Not related to the Oroville dam issue but points to the issues the region is having with the huge volume of water we are dealing with.  More evacuation orders have been issued. More folks to be displaced.

http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/delta/arti...

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But the dam is 50? years old.

But the dam is 50? years old.  Maybe it shouldn't have been built, I don't know.  But it was built.  Maybe all those people shouldn't have moved to an area where they could grow their crops, I don't know.  But they did move there.  So I get your points and even somewhat share your point of view but that doesn't help us now. We have a certain population that we need to sustain, and telling them that they shouldn't live there doesn't help anyone.  Most places, even the largest of our cities, have some hazard such as seismic, hurricane, contaminated water supply, etc.  Dooming everyone to their fate isn't a very community-minded attitude.  I prefer to think we're all in this together.

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Evacuation - don't wait for an invitation

It is NEVER a good idea to wait for an invitation / instruction to evacuate, if common sense or the warning bell of one’s survival instinct starts to kick in. The escape dynamics in tsunami & flood scenarios are the same as they are in the leadup to financial collapse i.e. the exit doors get crowded, or the escape routes get shut off quickly.

The Oroville situation is very similar to a flood event which we had in 2011 in Queensland, Australia. However, Oroville seems worse because of the clear degradation to the dam’s structure. Most of the damage in Queensland was to communities and towns far away from the flood source, because of land contours and water’s path of least resistance. Often that’s the real potential for devastation & misery, because those remoter people 10, 20, 30 miles away simply switch off to the dangers.

All the best to those in and around the Oroville Dam vicinity.

This is how quickly water’s destructive power built up in Queensland:

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Useful links & some hydropower loss data

I've been following this story intensely starting Monday Feb 13 2017.  Here are some useful resources:

KCRA Sacramento news TV live feed

Good explanation of the primary spillway, the auxiliary aka emergency spillway, and main dam.

Note that both spillways are only used in emergencies, they should NEVER be used in normal operations, so the inaccurate term "emergency spillway" is misleading.  The correct term is "auxiliary spillway" (source).  If it were operated competently, all of the discharge would be via the hydropower plant at the base of the dam, because the reservoir would have been preemptively lowered via the hydropower plant ahead of the storms.

Hydropower

The hydropower plant is currently shut down due to debris from the main spillway erosion backup up the tailrace (source).  This is almost entirely unreported.  Because of that the only discharge method currently available is the main spillway. The 17,000 cfs that would normally flow through the hydro generators is completely shut down, not only exacerbating the problem of trying to (belatedly) drop the level of the reservoir, but also resulting in vast amounts of lost power in the process.  This lost hydro power will have to be replaced by other sources, primarily natural gas.

Details on lost power from sending water down the spillways rather than through the hydro power plant.  I'm updating this with new info as it arrives.  Please let me know if you have further info for it, in particular the items highlighted in yellow.

Thanks - Pete

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Evacuation - don't wait - and make your own decisions

I agree totally.

Towns surrounding the Hazelwood mine were not evacuated during the mine fire. The official story began as advice there was nothing to fear. The story gradually changed a little. Just like the Oroville story seems to be changing. There was never a town evacuation though - the quiet official justification not voiced to the public was there would be more deaths from evacuation stress... Future cancer statistics may well prove that wrong.

I took my family and moved out ASAP I could, once I could see the situation was not resolving. However in the days before the mine fire, when it was just a bush fire, evacuation from our area of town was ordered. My husband refused to go, and his brother proactively entered into town, they chose to stay present ready to fight fire, sending grandma and the kids somewhere safer. I happened to be out of town at the time, and therefore got locked out of re-entering town. angry

We are willing to make our own decisions and take the consequences. I do not like to be told what to do by incompetent 'officials' who don't have to live with the consequences to my family. I will decide what is a risk to my health and safety.

As far as flooding goes - you MUST know your catchment area. When we lived by the Logan river in Queensland it was not local rain that caused flooding, but rains up in the catchment area. We always kept an eye on this and the upstream monitoring levels, and there were marks under the house showing us where previous floods had reached. A stark reminder if you were indecisive.

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Creating Panic, Living in Fear, Destroying Hope

Creating Panic, Living in Fear, Destroying Hope

All of these phrases are used to withhold factual information from other people or to justify a psychological defense of not look realistically at some hard bit of reality.  Unfortunately, even though the intent of the tactic is kindness, these cognitive distortions impair our ability to deal effectively with situations.

I think that it is important to separate: 1) the situation, from, 2) the emotional reaction to the situation.

Don't tell people that the spillway is eroding badly and the dam and has a 30% chance of failing.  They might panic and cause harm and social disruption in their panic.  Instead lets reassure by falsely saying "all is well."  Using a false reassurance deprives people (who believe those reassurances) of the chance to effectively and creatively respond to the situation.

Denial is the most common psychological defense used to manage anxiety evoking information.  PP is full of our stories of denial's many flavors.

  • "That will NEVER happen." 
  • "You are over-reacting." 
  • "Don't be so pessimistic." 
  • "Life is too short to worry all the time." 
  • "Don't dwell on negativity or you will attract it into your life." 
  • "Everything will be fine.  You'll see." 
  • "I am a happy person and don't like to talk about bad things."
  • "God is Love.  As a spiritual person I only focus on things that evoke His Love."
  • "I refuse to live in fear."

How about we look at the situation as clearly as we can as the first step.  Then, in a second step, we deal with our emotional reactions to the situation.  Emotional reactions go through stages and evolve.  But that is a separate issue.

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Not the first modern dam failure in the US

Along with the Teton dam failure, the St. Francis dam failed in 1928, killing up to 425 people.  There was a scathing writeup on it in the outstanding book "Cadillac Desert".  Many of the same government lies and mismanagement were in play.  90 years on, it's deja vu all over again.

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Great insight

Paul_VT wrote:

Maybe it is helpful to think about this carefully in terms of the interaction between mass psychology/risk perception and response, and the timing and orientation of official government warnings. 

Seems to me that when the threat is from potential catastrophes that recur within recent memory (I’m thinking hurricanes), the government errs on the side of caution (highly precautionary) regarding evacuation orders.  When it’s a relatively novel catastrophe (Teton Dam collapse in Idaho is way out of immediate recall for most), official warnings and responses are highly reactive and comparatively last-minute. 

Perhaps this is related to some kind of normalcy bias with respect to our collective perceptions of risk.  Also, there appears to be cultural resistance in our institutions (and maybe society in general) to any evidence that clearly illustrates fallibility in industrial endeavors.

If so, we could deduce in a really coarse but perhaps helpful way what to expect and what not to expect in terms of official warnings, considering the nature of the impending calamity as it relates to our cultural memory and perceptions.

Paul - this really stuck with me and I think it's a fantastic insight.  At least I have a number of recent events that all pop right into this framework.

Fukushima was flat out lying.  The actual depth of the financial crisis of 2008 was also flat out lying - things were so bad that people in-the-know were busy taking out cash and preparing bug out bags.  The rest of us were told happy stories about how 'they' had it all under control.

Hurricanes get that royal safety treatment you describe.

So, to reiterate, the model is; known and previously experienced risks get plenty of proper treatment, novel or rare risks get swept under the rug.

As long as we're simply facing the usual sorts of risks, then everything is fine and institutions are useful.  When it's brand new risks, then one simply has to think and gage risks for oneself.  

This brings us to the work here at Peak Prosperity.  What we're trying to do is sound the alarm over a very new set of risks that the world has never faced before; a global system of debt-based money exponentially expanding (on the steep part of the curve now too) into a world of finite energy that happens to be flat lining.

I mean, What else are we to make of the fact that oil discoveries for the past several years have been at levels not seen since the 1950's?

(Source)

"You have to find it before you can pump it."

There's going to be a world of hurt coming when these low discoveries combined with existing depletion crimp future oil and either create massively high prices, fighting over access, or both.

I'm 100% positive that some officials are in the possession of this knowledge but it's too novel, too "out there" to share with the public.  So the public is told happy talk about (expensive) shale oils and good old American ingenuity when the reality is very different from that.  

Expensive and rapidly depleting oil just isn't the same thing as cheap, long lasting oil wells.

This is why we need to prepare ourselves, trust ourselves, and I am thankful to the Oroville dam situation for reminding us of that again.

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Human responsibility is they key attribute

It's not the normalcy or lack thereof that affects timeliness of disclosure, it's accountability.  Hurricanes, earthquakes, winter storms, etc. are readily warned because they are "acts of God", there's no elite or governmental accountability involved.  Dam failures (Grand Teton, Oroville), levee failures (Katrina), nuclear accidents (Fukushima, Chernobyl) don't get warnings because the people responsible hope they can partially mitigate the disaster.  They also don't want the magnitude of their culpability to be understood by the masses.  

Lying about the situation allows them to manipulate perceptions and obfuscate responsibility.  By dragging t out the things out the public anger is partly dissipated by time.  If "properly" managed the worst bits become old news and get much less attention.  Fukushima is the best example of this last aspect.  Most people today think Fukushima was not that big of a deal.

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The Central Valley feeds us (for now)

Xango wrote:

...Maybe all those people shouldn't have moved to an area where they could grow their crops, I don't know.  But they did move there.  

...We have a certain population that we need to sustain, and telling them that they shouldn't live there doesn't help anyone.  Most places, even the largest of our cities, have some hazard such as seismic, hurricane, contaminated water supply, etc.  Dooming everyone to their fate isn't a very community-minded attitude.  I prefer to think we're all in this together.

Agreed!  The Central Valley of California feeds much of the U.S.  My brother lives about 60 miles NE of Oroville, and the first time I visited I was astonished at the fields and groves of olives, rice, almonds, walnuts, prunes, oranges, peaches, and pistachios...  Statistics show that in 2014, Butte County CA (Oroville) produced over $800,000,000 in food.  The last thing we should do is blame the hardworking farmers for living near Oroville and growing our food.    I happen to like olives.  A lot.  (Ok, I love olives!) 

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Can they drain it quickly enough (best case)?

I've been thinking about if it's even possible to drain out enough water to prepare for the massive snow pack melt.  I don't know the answer so I'm hoping that some others can help.

The dam was designed with 3 outlets:

  • Hydro plant (base) - 17,000 CFS
  • Main spillway (top) - Currently 100,000 CFS, but eroding (how long before it must be turned off?), and only drains the top (from 813.6' elevation)
  • Auxiliary spillway (top) - Disabled, and only drains the top (from 901' elevation)

For everything to go perfectly, the main spillway needs to be able to drain down to it's level (813.6'), then it stops.  At that point workmen start clearing the debris from the bottom, allowing restart of hydro plant when they are done (perhaps a week?).  The hydro plant then runs at full capacity, 17,000 CFS, for as long as it takes to lower the reservoir to a safe level to accommodate the melting of the snow pack.

Can the comparatively puny flow rate of the "bottom drain" (hydro plant) (about 1/6th the rate of the main spillway) pull down the reservoir enough before the melt water fills the reservoir again, assuming the best possible case of no further rain or snow and a delayed and slow melt?  Does anybody have the numbers and ability to calculate that?

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Draining

It seems like it's going to be a difficult process to maintain the integrity of the dam over the next couple of weeks.  As they are discharging through the main spillway, we have to assume that some erosion is still taking place there.  But they must keep that going, as they are facing several more inches of rain over the next 5 days or so.  Even beyond that, models continue to show a strong Pacific jet transporting disturbances into the CA coast, bringing additional rainfall.  They truly face a tough couple of weeks out there.

Regarding the comments thus far about warnings and notifying the public, I pretty much agree with what's been said.  The more we advance as a society, the more obvious it becomes how much we have sacrificed safety, knowledge, and skills for convenience, comfort, and instant gratification.  Unfortunately, we've become too reliant on things to manage our lives which are beyond our control.  And we've done this to our own detriment.  The population only moves in concert through crisis.  And the potential crisis points that now exist just below the surface are almost too numerous to even catalog.

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12z GFS QPF

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It's about what is sustainable

Xango wrote:

Maybe it shouldn't have been built, I don't know.  But it was built.  Maybe all those people shouldn't have moved to an area where they could grow their crops, I don't know.  But they did move there.  So I get your points and even somewhat share your point of view but that doesn't help us now. We have a certain population that we need to sustain, and telling them that they shouldn't live there doesn't help anyone.  

First of all I never said people should be abandon.  What I have issue with is the attitude that we have to have the government save us and it continues the same polices and thinking that created the mess in the first place.  Yes, in this case they are the only ones who can do anything because of the short duration, but you were complaining about cutting funding to all these same agencies and regulatory policies that are responsible for this mess.  Shouldn't we take a step back, as you said, and look at why we are here?  Is it because we surrender power over our lives to people who have little to no accountability, and yet you were advocating more of the same.

Waterdog14 wrote:

Agreed!  The Central Valley of California feeds much of the U.S.  My brother lives about 60 miles NE of Oroville, and the first time I visited I was astonished at the fields and groves of olives, rice, almonds, walnuts, prunes, oranges, peaches, and pistachios...  Statistics show that in 2014, Butte County CA (Oroville) produced over $800,000,000 in food.  The last thing we should do is blame the hardworking farmers for living near Oroville and growing our food.    I happen to like olives.  A lot.  (Ok, I love olives!)

Yes, it's amazing the amount of food, but this dam and other large projects like it done on taxpayer (theft victims) funds are simply a giant subsidy to someone.  In this case the farmers and consumers.  The problem is you have no idea how much those olives should cost.  Is the central valley really the best place to grow them?  Is it even remotely sustainable?  Everyone talks about sustainable, but we have no idea what that is because there are so many distortions in the system.  Is farming in the central valley and shipping food long distances really sustainable in a declining oil system?  How about maintenance of all this infrastructure?  The only way you know is if someone tries it, and is able to succeed without stealing from others to do so. 

So no, I don't overly blame the farmers, they are simply making the best of the current system, but like all of us, we need to realize we are living a lie.  Most of us are heavily subsidized in many ways, whether that be use of large amounts of oil, the jobs we have, the food we eat.  We need to wake up and understand that government, through taxation and money printing, are a primary cause of that unsustainability.

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More info on the hydropower plant status

This is from the DWR news conference on Feb 11.  (source)  Evidently there are 2 problems standing in the way of allowing water flow through the hydro plant at the base of the dam.  #1 is debris and water backed up in the channel (tail race), #2 is the removed or compromised power lines leading away from the power plant.  Apparently they can't run the water through the turbines without being connected to the grid, which seems odd to me.

The power generation was halted when water levels in the channel rose too high and comrpomised operation. 

According to Croyle, the plant faces two challenges. First, if debris washes upstream and gets into the plant it could damage equipment and cause them to shut down operations. Second, if the power lines that connect the plant to the grid go offline then the plant is no longer able to operate, or even let water through. Currently, the power lines are stretched across the area where the emergency spillway is releasing water, and erosion could damage the power poles. 

PG&E had been doing preparatory work on the lines in the past couple of days, but with water coming off the emergency spillway it became no longer safe for them to continue their work and they had to back off.

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Oroville Spillway

First thank you very much for interviewing Mr Cahill, his LinkedIn and that interview have been just about the only hard earth science available on the crisis at Oroville Dam.

I've been waiting for someone to publish the minimum level for the primary spillway. This poses yet one other problem going forward. I've suspected all weekend that the powerhouse was going to be destroyed if by nothing else by the sedimentation of the diversion pond. With that in mind, the minimum level of the main spillway at ~813' is the absolute minimum the lake can be lowered to. There is no " base drain" without the powerhouse no matter what happens.

Even with the announcement that a whole new spillway will be needed to replace the damaged structure, how can you possibly improve the design and construct a new outflow if you can't lower the lakes level below the existing structure? In theory a cofferdam I guess but anchored to what? And what location are you going to build it in?

This is a NIGHTMARE, cost, engineering, geologically....

One of my geology profs once lectured us on "design basis" events, which is the maximum event a structure is engineered to withstand. The catch was that design basis wasn't determined by the worst the mentioned doom and gloom engineer could dream up. It was instead the maximum protection you could afford to protect against. This, fukushima, Katrina all couldn't be better examples of this lesson in action.

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frameworks

Thanks Chris - the Hurricane example popped into my head the second I started reading this thread, and I thought that maybe observed patterns from public/institutional warning systems could be characterized in some helpful way.

Its consistent with what your site is successfully doing in so many different ways - helping develop a picture of what to expect and what not to expect when we start hitting steep parts of the descent curve. Substantiating a framework concerning "official" alarms and warnings might help illustrate the need to  accept that there will likely be "run for your life" (or simply withdraw $ form the banking system) situations that requires independent assessment and response outside of official advisories.  All part of your efforts to help empower ourselves and trust our own judgments.

The trick of course, is the tension that the NWS tries to navigate with hurricanes - I'm thinking of all the evacuations that occur only for the storm to veer in another direction at the last minute.  While the evacuations may be appropriate given the nature and degree of risk, NWS evacuation warning messages loses credibility capital every time a storm veers away, with fewer people trusting the warnings, and thus less likely to heed the warnings next time.

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More drain numbers

DWR has some great data on the reservoir (source).  By looking at lake elevation graphs versus lake storage graphs I was able to work out the storage capacities at roughly 10 foot increments.  From that I was able to work out how long it would take to drain from one level to the next.  Spreadsheet is here.

The good news is that the main spillway running at 100,000 CFS can drop it  40 feet, from 900' (overflow via the auxiliary spillway) to 860' (the inlet to the main spillway) in under 4 days, assuming zero inflow.  Any inflow will of course lengthen that time.

The bad news is that after it drops below 860', the only drain is the power plant, which is offline with no ETA yet.  Stated cause is debris in the outlet pool, rumored reason also includes flooding and unspecified damage.  It only flows max 17,000 CFS so takes a week to drop the lake only 10 feet, assuming zero inflow.

Call me pessimistic, but I can't see how this thing is going to be able to drain via the power plant alone.  It's going to need the spillways if another big rain comes, and certainly when the snow melts.  In 15 weeks it won't have dropped 150 feet below the 860' main spillway entrance, probably not 100'.  And then the snowmelt comes along, on top of whatever rain has fallen between now and then.

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Photo Analysis

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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Re: Photo anlaysis

RedRider13 wrote:

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. 

This seems highly significant to me, so thank you for the analysis.  But I don't quite understand it.  

Obviously for water to be 'shooting' out of the spillway curtain drains, there has to be water underneath the spillway, and pretty high up the spillway too since they are venting water up to and past the "knee" where the spillway steepens.

Is this correct?  (Also, sorry for any incorrect terms or jargon).

If so, where did this water come from?  Is it leaking beneath the spillway after being released from the dam, or before?  

Further, in either case, it seems that there's a leak in the spillway very high up - above the 'knee' somewhere - and one thing I know about water is that it will try and make any cavity larger and will always succeed if given enough time.

Where is this water coming from?  How significant is it that it's coming out under what appears to be considerable pressure (and volume)?

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cmartenson wrote: Where is

cmartenson wrote:

Where is this water coming from?  How significant is it that it's coming out under what appears to be considerable pressure (and volume)?

Regarding the bottom photos, it appears to me that there are 2 separate sources.

Left side - Clear water, indicating no erosion.  This appears to be sourced somewhere near the top, flowing through the gravel layer between the spillway side wall and the earthen hillside, emerging through the side drains.

Right side - Brown water, indicating erosion.  This emerges from the bottom lip of the hole in the concrete.  It has somehow flowed across earth, either under the concrete spillway or along the right side, where the gravel and earth have been eroded away.

Both sources must be above the hole, but where?  The clear water is less of a concern.  The brown water is really scary.  As the dam expert noted in one of his outstanding Linkedin posts, the crack in the bottom of the spillway concrete likely was the result of water running under it undetected, carrying away the earth underneath it, leaving it unsupported.  Then when the weight and impact of the rushing discharge water hit it, it failed, leaving a hole.  This had nice jagged edges and dirt underneath, perfect for the fast moving 100,000 CFS stream to scour it, eventually completely removing the bottom part of the spillway.

Is there a leak under the spillway head gates?  We should know pretty quickly as the water drops to the level of them and thus quits flowing down the spillway, allowing easier inspection.

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Power plant update

Several simultaneous projects are planned or underway to bring the power plant back online, restarting the bottom outflow (17,000 CFS max).

  • Building a new road to allow heavy equipment to access the pool at the bottom of the main spillway
  • Clearing the debris from the pool using heavy equipment (new road) and barges
  • Moving power transmission line towers higher up, to safer ground
  • Restringing the wires to the new tower

(source)

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Historical outflow graph

(source) NOTE: The hydro power plant maxes out at 17,000 CFS, so everything above that is the spillway(s)

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More Photo Analysis

peterkuykendall wrote:

Regarding the bottom photos, it appears to me that there are 2 separate sources.

Left side - Clear water, indicating no erosion.  This appears to be sourced somewhere near the top, flowing through the gravel layer between the spillway side wall and the earthen hillside, emerging through the side drains.

Right side - Brown water, indicating erosion.  This emerges from the bottom lip of the hole in the concrete.  It has somehow flowed across earth, either under the concrete spillway or along the right side, where the gravel and earth have been eroded away

Both sources must be above the hole, but where?  The clear water is less of a concern.  The brown water is really scary.  As the dam expert noted in one of his outstanding Linkedin posts, the crack in the bottom of the spillway concrete likely was the result of water running under it undetected, carrying away the earth underneath it, leaving it unsupported.  Then when the weight and impact of the rushing discharge water hit it, it failed, leaving a hole.  This had nice jagged edges and dirt underneath, perfect for the fast moving 100,000 CFS stream to scour it, eventually completely removing the bottom part of the spillway.

Is there a leak under the spillway head gates?  We should know pretty quickly as the water drops to the level of them and thus quits flowing down the spillway, allowing easier inspection.

The bottom photo in post #37 is a photo of the spillway after the first trial. The area is currently significantly more eroded. In this photo, there is water sheeting off the intact spillway into the void. There is water coming from the upper side drains (on both sides) and possibly also from a not-completely-sealed spillway gate. There may be an additional subterranean source. The water is likely mixing with the slumped soil from the erosional feature slightly above the spillway head scarp on the right side. This muddy water splits with some of it returning to the bottom spillway and most of it forming its own channel to the right of the spillway. I agree with you that muddy water indicates erosion.

Looking at more recent photos, I interpret the reddish colored rock as being more weathered and thus weaker. Water has done its job and removed what it could. Although more erosion may occur, the effluent is now running much clearer. I agree, that is a good sign. The bottom of the spillway is still intact as evidenced by plumes from water impacting the energy dissipater blocks at the bottom of the spillway.

The older photo (bottom photo in post #37) shows reddish color behind the spillway head scarp. If the red color indicates weaker rock, that rock may have weathered/eroded from under the spillway. Surface water percolating through a weak seam could do that. That could have been a source for the original weakness of the spillway. The rock may have been competent and unweathered when the spillway was built. Different chemical mixtures in the granitic source rock weather at differing rates. I've worked with slaking shale that was very difficult to chisel, but crumbled under hand pressure after being exposed to air for a day. Not that this rock was like that, but stranger things happen. The rock in the hillside certainly isn't homogeneous.

Also, that drawing showing the underground power plant is more or less for illustrating the pertinent components of the dam. It definitely is not to scale. The power plant would be much, much smaller and much closer to the toe of the dam. I'm only pointing this out so laymen won't get the wrong idea.

I'm glad they are working on several fronts, particularly getting the power plant operational. Without that functioning, the only "safe" exit is through the spillway.

Grover

Wendy S. Delmater's picture
Wendy S. Delmater
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Posts: 1917
some regs necessary

For what it's worth, I'm a  retired safety engineer. OSHA is necessary.; there are employers who would put their workers at extreme risk.  And the regulations go through a review process where industry weighs in. So yes. I will be writing the new administration about keeping those regs. 

Cold Rain's picture
Cold Rain
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Still Looking Wet

Both the 0z and 6z (below) GFS runs show plenty of rainfall over the next 7 days.  The Canadian model agrees.  I can't see the European QPF maps, but it looks very wet as well.  I guess they have things stabilized now, so we're probably beyond the critical zone, with lesser chance of failure going forward, just based on some of the comments.

Snydeman's picture
Snydeman
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I'm dubious

and skeptical when hearing any statements from officials saying "everything is awesome."

Never bet against chaos. It wins more often than the house.

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peterkuykendall
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Drain numbers corrected

My apologies, in an earlier post I repeatedly stated the level of the main spillway inlet as 860' versus the actual value of 813.6'.  Dyslexia failure!

As of Feb 15, the level of the lake is about 870', about 60' above the main spillway inlet, and is dropping about 9' / day. (source)  So with no increased input, it would take about 7 days to drop to the level of the main spillway inlet.  That time will be extended by the amount in increased intake brought about by the coming storms.

DWR chart:

My projection, based on the DWR data above and assuming no storms and linear drop for simplicity.  The storms will slow the rate of decrease in elevation.  The projection flattens out at 813.6', the level of the main spillway intake.  Whenever the hydro power plant comes back online it will be able to decline below that, at about 1/6th the rate (17,000 CFS versus 100,000 CFS).

rhare's picture
rhare
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Posts: 1308
Just another distortion n the system

Wendy S. Delmater wrote:

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

I disagree. There are 3 parties involved that have a vested interest and an OSHA person isn't one of them. You have

  • Employee - obviously wants to not be hurt and still be able to work.
  • Employer - who want the job done, doesn't want to have to retrain an employee or possibly pay for injuries depending on their agreement with the Employee.
  • Consumer - the person who is buying what ever the Employer is selling.  You get to vote with your pocket book if you want better care of the Employee.  

The OSHA inspector has no vested interest except as a consumer, the only power they have is through acts of violence by the state.  This, just like anything done by the state, no matter how good sounding, is simply another potentially unsustainable distortion.   It has the same impact as minimum wage laws in that it raises the cost of labor to where what ever is being done becomes not worth doing, gets automated, or gets pushed to anther jurisdiction.

Wendy S. Delmater wrote:

So yes. I will be writing the new administration about keeping those regs. 

As you are doing that, please keep in the back of your mind, what you are saying is I'm asking someone to use violence against the Employer and/or the Employee on my behalf.  To ultimately kill them by sending men with guns if they don't want to do things my way.

Or you could offer your services to an Employer by explaining to them how you can help save them money (better employees with less cost, less turn over) or you can help improve their image with their consumer.  Or you could talk to groups of the employees and explain how to improve safety in their jobs.  These are voluntary acts and don't involve threat/use of violence.

Everyone should keep that last point in mind.  Anything you ask the state to do on your behalf is advocating violence by proxy.  Is it worth it, that's up to you, but at least understand what your asking for and does it fit within your moral belief system.  If you aren't willing to pick up a gun, go to the Employee and Employer and shoot them if they refuse to comply, then you shouldn't be asking someone else to do it for you. I see truly compassionate people,and I know your one from your writings on this site, that don't think about what they are asking. 

Snydeman's picture
Snydeman
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Posts: 293
rhare wrote: As you are doing

rhare wrote:

As you are doing that, please keep in the back of your mind, what you are saying is I'm asking someone to use violence against the Employer and/or the Employee on my behalf.  To ultimately kill them by sending men with guns if they don't want to do things my way.

Or you could offer your services to an Employer by explaining to them how you can help save them money (better employees with less cost, less turn over) or you can help improve their image with their consumer.  Or you could talk to groups of the employees and explain how to improve safety in their jobs.  These are voluntary acts and don't involve threat/use of violence.

Everyone should keep that last point in mind.  Anything you ask the state to do on your behalf is advocating violence by proxy.  Is it worth it, that's up to you, but at least understand what your asking for and does it fit within your moral belief system.  If you aren't willing to pick up a gun, go to the Employee and Employer and shoot them if they refuse to comply, then you shouldn't be asking someone else to do it for you. I see truly compassionate people,and I know your one from your writings on this site, that don't think about what they are asking. 

Or we could allow labor to unify itself, instead of outlawing such organizations of the working classes. Better yet, let's go back a time when the employees were treated with such horrible disrespect and subjected to even more horrible working and living conditions that they joined communist organizations by the millions. Better times, those were!

Luke Moffat's picture
Luke Moffat
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Joined: Jan 25 2014
Posts: 287
Safety Standards and Authorities

Hi rhare

I'm not sure it's as clear cut as that. As I railway engineer I am licensed by the Institute of Railway Signalling Engineers to undertake Signalling Design Work. When doing so I must adhere to safety standards that have been developed over decades of railway accidents and accumulated experience that has followed the evolution of signalling systems. Expecting the three bodies you listed to remember and implement over a century of best practice without referring to enforced safety principles is a little naive. I have been in situations where I have had to point to the relevant safety standard and say "No, you can't do that," to the client, quoting the standard to back up my justifications. Removing that safety net would only spell trouble. And no guns were required.

DaveF posted something a while ago called the 'normalisation of deviance' referring to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Sure the people involved suffered reputational damage and prosecution, but that alone didn't clean up the 4.9 million barrels of oil polluting the Gulf of Mexico or bring back the 11 lives lost, in addition to the wildlife destroyed.

Wendy - write away!

Regards,

Luke

Grover's picture
Grover
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Joined: Feb 16 2011
Posts: 665
Effects of a dam break

Here is a 12 minute video focused on the Oroville dam and projected reservoir levels based on weather precipitation models. The first couple of minutes gives a summary of the situation (very worth watching.) The rest is interesting to watch, but a bit hyperbolic. A slight shift in the jet stream and everything changes - better or worse. The long term weather models just aren't that good. The videos show the scale of erosion below the spillways very well. The huge equipment being used looks miniscule.

He mentions some really sound advice that I concur completely. If you're downstream of Oroville and the dam fails, your current existence will be over. Whatever you take with you is what you will have. The swath of devastation won't just be confined to the Feather River corridor. You need to evaluate the potential impact to you. A wall of water just a few feet high can cause enormous damage to unreinforced structures. Remember the videos of the Japanese tsunami?

Frankly, if you can't do anything about it, it isn't worth worrying about either. It is best to assess your personal situation ahead of time, decide what possible options you have, and then choose trigger points that will cause you to act in a certain manner. For instance, if reservoir levels are rising fast enough that water looks like it will crest the emergency spillway, you better be going and have somewhere to go!!!

Officialdom will not give you warnings soon enough to matter. They won't want to cause an unwarranted panic. If/when warnings come, there simply aren't enough highway lanes to evacuate that large of an area. Factor that into your plans.

If the dam breaks, lots of things that all of us currently take for granted will change. Transportation and utility lines will be broken for a considerable distance. The major interstates (I-5 and I-80) will be severed, hampering any efforts to get help to those who need it. Think of Katrina's devastation on steroids. Southern/Central California gets lots of water from Northern California. If those facilities are destroyed, what impacts will be created?

For the rest of us in the world, there will be fewer options at the grocery stores. Some pharmaceuticals may not be available for quite a while. Consider getting your medical needs up to date. Do you like olives? You might want to stock up. What about other currently abundant products? How long will those be abundant in a panic? It is prudent to plan ahead. It is hoarding when supply lines are cut.

California's finances are already on shaky legs. A dam break would bring it to its knees (at a minimum.) Will there be enough energy to rebuild the area? Look at Katrina and the efforts necessary to bring it to its current state. That was back when debt loads were considerably lighter at all levels of government. Bottom line, it will impact us all to some degree.

Grover

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