The eye-opening events taking place in Northern California this week, with the breaches of the Oroville Dam, may prove to be an example of how disasters can sometimes be the result of a failure to act. There is a significant amount of documentation, dating back to 2008, that the remedial measures taken to fix the defects of the main spillway found in numerous inspection reports sent to state and federal officials were insufficient. Additionally, there were a number of other warnings and “red flags” raised about the possibility of massive erosion of the emergency spillway which, in fact, occurred and resulted in the evacuation of nearly 200,000 residents in downstream communities from the reservoir. However, there are a number of external inspectors and engineers that have defended that state’s management of the spillway and reported that all standards for dam inspections and maintenance had been met leading up to this incident. The following article provides more information about the Oroville Dam failures and debate over whether or not anything more could’ve been done to prevent the current situation: http://www.govtech.com/em/disaster/Alarms-raised-years-ago-about-risks-of-Oroville-Dams-spillways.html
Fortunately, this disaster was purely infrastructure-centric and did not result in a loss of life or community but it very well could’ve. The preliminary estimated cost associated with repairing this infrastructure suggests around $200 million and, again, this is without the subsequent costs of an actual disaster to the communities around it. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered the Department of Water Resources to perform a forensic analysis aimed at determining the cause of the chute failure. So, while the “jury” may still be “out” on whether or not gross negligence played a factor, this incident will likely be a great case study on the cost-benefit of mitigation measures for the outdated infrastructure in this country moving forward.