Independent Forensic Team releases interim report on Oroville Dam spillway failures

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The Independent Forensic Team hired by the State of California to get to the bottom of the failure of the spillways at Oroville Dam has issued a preliminary report in the form of a memo to the Department of Water Resources that doesn’t quite point to a single cause of the failure of the main spillway, or the erosion of the emergency spillway. It also suggests that regular physical inspections, while necessary, would not have caught the problem in advance. The memo was released yesterday. You can read it yourself at https://ad03.asmrc.org/sites/default/files/districts/ad03/files/IFT Memo_0.pdf

Here is an excerpt:

  1. Physical inspections, while necessary, are not sufficient to identify risks and manage safety. At Oroville Dam, more frequent physical inspections would not likely have uncovered the issues which led to the spillway incident.
  2. Comprehensive periodic reviews of original design and construction, taking into account comparison with the current state of the practice, are needed for all components of dam projects. These reviews should be thorough, taking advantage of all available information; critical and independent, rather than relying largely on the findings of past reviews; and completed by people with appropriate technical expertise, experience, and qualifications to cover all aspects of design, construction, maintenance, and failure modes.