Recently, the Oroville Dam experienced an overflow that caused alarm amongst policymakers and residents in Oroville, CA. The Oroville dam is the tallest dam in the United States and was constructed in 1968. The emergency spillway of the dam is from an earthen spillway, which allows it to erode and cause serious damage. In 2005, environmental groups filed motions with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commision (FERC) to reinforce the dam with concrete, but the FERC responded that the spillway met federal guidelines. In 2013, the spillway became cracked, but again the warnings were ignored and a Senior Civil Engineer claimed it was not unusual for spillways to develop a void from drainage systems below. After a period of heavy rain, the void in the main spillway grew into a massive crater, which became concerning to the FERC and surrounding residents. About 188,000 people and other residents in the nearby area were called to emergency evacuation last Sunday. An official reported that the worst case scenario would involve an uncontrolled release of a 30-foot wall of water downstream. Sheriff Kory Honea reported that the evacuation order was to stay in place until he was more certain on the damage, “what that means and what risk that poses.” The plan was to better assess the situation to decide whether it would be safe for residents to return. California’s State Department of Water Resources (DWR) had been cautiously pumping water out of the dam and using helicopters to reinforce the emergency spillway.
This unnerving incident has demonstrated that the government has yet to enforce safe and proactive measures to inspect damage and maintain infrastructures to protect residents and the local environment. If such neglect continues, it could set a precedent for other infrastructural failures.
Andy Rogers, a farmer, lives a few miles from the dam and is uncertain as to whether the DWR would be able to fix the dam as they had claimed. As a farmer, not only will his home be affected, but his business and other personal effects will also be liable. “How do they know what they’re doing now, how will they solve the problem if they have a big storm? It will not surprise me if we have to evacuate,” he commented. This act of negligence has created distrust in the reliability of the government in maintaining the welfare and protection of its citizens.
Other acts of negligence include the government issued Dakota Access Pipeline, which caused an emergency evacuation for the Sioux Tribe at Standing Rock. The government is responsible for being trustworthy and reliable to the citizens they claim to protect, which is not the case based upon their negligence in this event. Internal displacement and major structural development is highly damaging to the overall well-being of the country, and policymakers should take a more proactive and preventive stance rather than a reactive one. The overall lack of concern and prioritization to residents in smaller towns will eventually snowball into other larger problems such as overurbanization and increased economic disparities. Every cause, no matter how minimal, will have an effect. If the government paid attention to motions filed by environmental groups and started to be proactive in taking yearly inspections for the safety of residents, then alarming and dangerous incidents such as the overflowing of the Oroville Dam would be much less likely to occur.