Water Resources department moving to fix damaged Oroville Dam

OROVILLE (KTVU) -- The California Department of Water Resources announced Monday that it will stop the outflow of water from the Oroville Dam's damaged spillway within 10 days in order to make repairs before the rainy season returns in five months.

Infrastructure experts say dam officials will have to rush repairs to the dam, which is a critical facility for two-thirds of California residents and the state agricultural industry.

Robert Bea, professor emeritus of engineering at the University of California at Berkeley, has spent the last 50 years working on massive land and sea construction projects around the world. He said the state should move quickly to repair the damaged dam.

"It's a slam dunk 10," said Bea, who has investigated and consulted on the dam since January, adding that the Department of Resources has chosen a dubious option. "I call it a patch and pray approach."

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Bea said the dam should be overhauled so it will comply with current and proposed dam and earthquake building standards because the permanent repairs would have to last at least 50 years.

"Five years of snow pack is melting and nature is unforgiving of our ignorance," Bea said. "I'm afraid and I think we should be afraid."

Some experts say the state water resources department doesn't have the ability to manage a contractor that will guarantees high reliability in the operation, construction, repair and maintenance of a truly high reliability systems such as Oroville Dam.

"That concern is at the very top of my worry," Bea said. "I don't think they have a coherent understanding of what the word safe means (and) no coherent understanding of what that word risk means," Bea said.

Even if the agency can erect a temporary spillway before fall rains come, the condition of the massive steel spill gates, called the head works and found at the top of the dam, is in question.

They're in "tough shape," he said.

Bea says cracks in the gate's critical steel structures have been studied for most of the last decade. "Even if we fix the gated spillway, the headworks are unadressed," Bea said.

Others worry about the wet spots at the bottom of the earthen dam which the department insists -- without scientific proof --are natural springs.

"We need to do everything possible to help this old dam do the best job she can until it's time to decommission," Bea said. 

By KTVU reporter Tom Vacar.

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