Insights into the Oroville Dam 2017 spillway incident

A. Koskinas, A. Tegos, P. Tsira, P. Dimitriadis, T. Iliopoulou, P. Papanicolaou, D. Koutsoyiannis, and Τ. Williamson, Insights into the Oroville Dam 2017 spillway incident, Geosciences, 9 (37), doi:10.3390/geosciences9010037, 2019.



In February 2017, a failure occurring in Oroville Dam’s main spillway risked causing severe damages downstream. A unique aspect of this incident was the fact that it happened during a flood scenario well within its design and operational procedures, prompting research into its causes and determining methods to prevent similar events from reoccurring. In this study, a hydroclimatic analysis of Oroville Dam’s catchment is conducted, along with a review of related design and operational manuals. The data available allows for the comparison of older flood-frequency analyses to new alternative methods proposed in this paper and relevant literature. Based on summary characteristics of the 2017 floods, possible causes of the incident are outlined, in order to understand which factors contributed more significantly. It turns out that the event was most likely the result of a structural problem in the dam’s main spillway and detrimental geological conditions, but analysis of surface level data also reveals operational issues that were not present during previous larger floods, promoting a discussion about flood control design methods, specifications, and dam inspection procedures, and how these can be improved to prevent a similar event from occurring in the future.

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