Damning Questions About Oroville
By Paul Homewood
h/t Joe Public
WUWT carries the story of the Oroville Dam emergency spillway in California. In short, the spillway has been damaged at the same time as the dam itself is close to overflowing, following recent heavy rain.
There will doubtless be many questions asked about the design, integrity and maintenance of the spillway. But one question that should be asked is why the dam was allowed to come close to full in the first place.
As can be seen, nearly all of the major reservoirs across California are at or above average, and many are close to full up.
Oroville itself has been rising rapidly since early December, so water managers have had plenty of warning about what was happening.
Of course, reservoir management is a difficult job at the best of times, particularly when dams serve double purposes – water storage and flood control.
But one wonders whether too much attention has been paid to the slew of warnings in recent years from climate scientists and others about permanent drought in California.
“California Braces for Unending Drought,” The New York Times reported in May 2016, citing Gov. Jerry Brown’s decision to indefinitely keep in place statewide water conservation measures. Brown also order state agencies to “prepare for a future made drier by climate change,” the Times reported.
“Thanks El Niño, But California’s Drought Is Probably Forever,” Wired reported that same month reporting on Brown’s indefinite water restrictions.
“Now we know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life,” Brown said in his 2016 statement extending water restrictions.
The reality is that California’s climate has swung from one extreme to the other, drought to flood, with monotonous regularity for the last century, and no doubt much longer.
The one thing you should expect is the unexpected.
There are of course parallels with the Wivenhoe dam in Australia back in 2011. Then the dam was kept at full capacity, despite warnings of heavy rain to come. As a result, subsequent flooding was much worse than it need have been.
It is apparent that those in charge in Queensland placed far too much emphasis on prior warnings of permanent drought.
Perhaps the key lesson from all of this is that what we really need is much better short term weather forecasting, weeks and months ahead. This is what Met Offices should be concentrating resources on, and not trying to guess what might happen in a century time.