While 10% of homes have leaks that waste over 90 gallons of water per day, a Northern California dam is facing a slightly larger leak problem: the Orville dam is on the brink of flooding billions of gallons of water and devastating thousands of homes.
In fact, in late February, officials feared that the Orville dam was on the brink of collapsing. The dam is located about 70 miles north of Sacramento, and thousands of Californians would have suffered if the dam broke.
It turns out that 10 years ago, when the dam first experienced signs of problems, state and federal regulators dismissed the idea that it could possibly erupt and cause flooding all over the area. They mistakenly believed that the hillside adjacent to the dam would help to hold back the billions of gallons of water, and thus there was no need to reinforce the dam with concrete.
Turns out they were wrong.
On February 10, the dam’s water reservoir was already overflowing with water due to plenty of thunderstorms in the area. The water trickled down the hillside, and authorities were worried that the pressure of all this water could potentially cause a 30-foot-high wave to run down the Feather River and flood all the homes in its path.
So, biting their fingernails, the California Department of Water Resources (CDWR) ordered the evacuation of 200,000 homes in the potential flood zone. Even though the fear subsided by the following Monday, residents were not allowed back to their homes until Tuesday.
While natural disasters cannot usually be prevented, the homeowners who were displaced are wondering why this situation has gone ignored for so long. Back in 2005, the dam was going through a new relicensing process, and back then environmental groups were concerned about the stability of the dam. They asked for the CDWR to reinforce the hillside with concrete in order to prevent this exact problem, but it wasn’t considered a priority to officials, who said it did not pose a “significant threat.”
“I think that the warning that was given should have been taken with the utmost seriousness,” Bob Wright, an attorney at Friends of the River, which raised the concern along with the Sierra Club and South Yuba River Citizens League, explained to Idaho News. “We’re talking about the danger to life and property.”
Not to mention homeowners were angry at the financial burden placed on them for having to move so abruptly. According to data from the American Moving and Storage Association, the average intrastate move costs $1,170, but even a temporary displacement can be expensive. Homeowners had to pocket these expenses even as they prepared for the possibility of costly water damage repairs, too.
As a way to prevent water from overflowing again, engineers are releasing a torrent of water through a concrete-lined overflow channel on the opposite side of the dam.
By the time of publishing, there has been no word on a permanent solution.