Dammed If You Don't

Forcing the evacuation of almost 200,000 people, the Oroville dam captured the attention of the nation, as operators struggled between pressures on the dam itself, and on damage to the main and emergency spillway. While the operators were successful in avoiding disaster, the history of the dam and communications around the event make it clear just how close it was to disaster.

The emergency spillway, which showed signs of damage almost instantly upon use, had been a source of concern for years, with Friends of the River and other groups arguing in 2005 that the spillway required reinforcement in concrete. Despite this, in 2014, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission argued both spillways were safe and at no reasonable risk of failure.

Said retired engineer and construction inspector Jerry Antonetti, "There's always been an understanding that, man, you don't want to use that emergency spillway, because when you do, it's going to be a mess."

Criticism was also drawn from communities in the area, who complained about the lack of communication surrounding the potential threat. Sheriff Kory Honea was originally informed that activities were merely "routine maintenance inspections", despite the need for a sheriff's evacuation order becoming necessary soon afterward. Said city administrator for the town of Biggs Mark Sorensen, the state "earned a grade of F on its ability to timely and completely communicate during this incident."