What's the Real Reason Behind the California Dam Breach, and How Does that Affect You?

By Todd Norman

The Oroville dam and the residents in that area have been on our minds and Facebook feeds for the past few days. It brought back to my mind a flood that happened to me a few years ago. It makes my heart reach out to them even more.

It was a typical Sunday morning, or so I thought... I ran downstairs to our crawlspace we use for storage to grab something from our food storage. And I realized it was a lot more wet down there than I remembered.

There was several inches of water covering our entire crawlspace. I had no inclination that was something I would ever have to worry about in that location or house, but due to recent storms the water table in our area had significantly risen.

It may have been unexpected but we still had to deal with the problem. It took most of the day to move all our boxes and storage from the basement upstairs where it was dry. And in the end we found that the flood had damaged some of our belongings, especially books and papers that we had kept down there.

Even that small bit of water flooding our home caused a lot of headache. And it was headache that could have been avoided.

My run-in with flooding was very small compared to the potential catastrophe that over 100,000 Californian residents are currently facing. For the time being the evacuation order has been lifted but anxiety is still tense. So what is the problem that officials were so worried about?


The Flooding: Deficient Spillway

After several years of drought people in the Oroville California area were relieved to see rain. The dams were filling, the rivers were filling, it was looking to be a good year.

The rain didn't stop though, it kept coming.

As the rain kept coming the water in the Oroville dam kept rising. The Dam has a main cement spill way designed to release water when the levels became to high.

As water levels began rising decisions were made to begin releasing as much water as they could from the main spillway.

The spillway held up! It was cement and well built.

But it simply wasn't enough, water kept rising to the point where it overflowed into the emergency spillway.

As with many emergency spillways it was made of earth with only a cement weir or sill at the top. It soon became evident that the spill way was eroding away very quickly.

With more storms on the way officials were unsure if they could release enough water through the main spill way to prevent potentially detrimental erosion. Erosion that could cause the spillway to burst.

If this were to happen there would be millions of dollars of damaged property and businesses as water would flood down from the dam. And many, many lives would be affected.

Officials have been frantically working since Sunday to stabilize and reinforce the spillway, and for the moment have the situation under control. Let's hope that with the forecasted rains the situation remains in control.

The Problem: Where's the Funding? Where's the Preparation?

Wait, I thought the flooding was the problem, what's with this heading?

Sure, the flooding is a problem, a big problem, but not the root of the problem. Think about it, this is a major dam. The tallest in America. Don't you think someone should have seen this coming?

The sad thing is, someone did.

An article titled "In Shadow of California Dam, Water Turns From Wish to Woe" explains that several groups tried to work with the government encouraging them to cement the entire hillside to prevent erosion.

Ron Stork, a representative from one of the organizations said, speaking of the spillway “They didn’t think they would ever need it, and they were confident that erosion was not going to be a problem”

This has become a far too common conclusion made by government officials. It was the same response I had when someone suggested we put a pump in our basement before it flooded. In both cases the conclusions were proven wrong.

There are many dams, spillways, and levy's across the US that are in need of update and repair, but the necessary funds are placed elsewhere, because of the conclusion that we probably won't need them.

Where Else is This a Problem?

It would be nice to say this problem is concentrated around only this particular dam, but that just isn't the case. From bridges to roads, from dams to levees, even buildings' structural integrity there are many updates, repairs and even replacements that if made would increase our security and safety.

Another area of concern is concentrated around the Sacramento levees. There are many old and outdated levees in disrepair that are protecting thousands of people. The potential risk in that area could be similar to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans with potential deaths reaching the thousands.

Why are there so many places in the us that are in disrepair? In all actuality the US only spends

The problem doesn't just lie in California. Do you live near a place that uses a dam or levy? chances are you do, over 156 million americans are protected from flooding by a levy.

As mentioned the problem doesn't lie with just levees and dams. Around 1/3 of the roads in the US remain in disrepair and one in nine bridges are structurally deficient.

While those statistics are disheartening roads and bridges receive the most funding. On top of that railroads, and airports also need help with funding.

You can check out this link to learn more about the disrepair in the US.

In addition to disrepair sometimes there are unavoidable disasters. I lived close enough to a lake that the water table affected my home, there was really nothing we could have done but prepare.

What can we do when in situations like this we can't rely on the government for our safety and security? What's left for you to do?

What Decisions are in My Hands?

There are many real threats around us in the natural world. Luckily for most of us they haven't happened to us... yet.

A good lesson learned in this situation is we can't rely on the thought that "it won't happen to me" because it just might.

My dad often says it's up to you to take care of your needs and your family's needs.

What can be done in the meanwhile?

How can you get involved in local government to help prevent these type of disasters?

How can you live your life to be ready for problems that do come?

There are basic needs and questions that can be asked now to be ready.

What supplies do you have or do you still need if you have to bug-out?

What supplies do you need if you had to bug-in?

Have you thought about foodwater, hygiene, or shelter?

With the scare so fresh on our minds take a few minutes to go over your plan in an emergency. You never know when you may need it, but I can almost guarantee you will need it.

If you think its important to be involved and prepared for disasters like this please share this post.
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