The recent breaching of the Oroville Dam in California revealed a disturbing historical incident that bears bringing to everyone’s attention. In October 2005, according to a San Jose Mercury News story published February 12, the Sierra Club and two local environment groups filed a motion with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission “as part of Oroville Dam’s relicensing process, urging federal officials to require that the dam’s emergency spillway be armored with concrete, rather than remain as an earthen hillside.” FERC has regulatory authority over dams.
The motion stated that the dam did not meet modern safety standards because in the event of extreme rain and flooding, fast-rising water would overwhelm the main concrete spillway, then flow down the emergency spillway, and that could cause heavy erosion that would create flooding for communities downstream, but also could cause a failure. According to the Mercury News story, “FERC rejected that request, however, after the state Department of Water Resources, and the water agencies that would likely have had to pay the bill for the upgrades, said they were unnecessary.”
Another, troubling example of short-sited regulatory due diligence!