At 770 feet high, Oroville is the nation’s tallest dam and in February 2017 it almost failed. Heavy winter rains had caused the lake behind the dam to rise by fifty feet in just a matter of days. When it looked as if the dam might not be able to hold the nearly 3.5 million acre feet of water, approximately 180,000 residents downstream were required to evacuate their homes. Moreover, a rupture in the water system threatened the water supply as far away as southern California. One third of the water consumed in the L.A. area flows through Lake Oroville. Twenty-seven different urban and agricultural water districts throughout the state receive water from Lake Oroville. The threat of dam failure was “potentially catastrophic” according to a state official in the Office of Emergency Services. The state immediately began work on repairing the dam, and managed to prevent the much-feared downstream flooding. An estimated two-years’ worth of work is still to be done to make the Oroville Dam fully functional, at a cost of approximately $275 million. Fortunately, the state believes the dam will be operational in time for this next season of rain. Meanwhile, there are 1,400 other dams throughout the state, the majority of which are at least as old as the Oroville Dam (built in 1968) and constructed with outdated techniques and designed to hold and move water based on averages and data from a different era.
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