FERC AFTER ACTION PANEL: Oroville is still inciting dam safety changes nationwide
For most of us, change is uncomfortable. It bugs me even when my cable company changes the look of our channel guide. When it comes to dam safety, however, it is vital that regulators take a hard look at guidelines in the wake of serious incidents and make changes to protect lives and property. Two years on, the Oroville spillway incident is still provoking changes to dam safety policies nationwide. A lot has been said about the changes to California regulations, but what about dams regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) nationwide?
FERC Panel Focus
FERC assembled an After-Action Panel to review Oroville Dam and safety elements regarding the dam owner’s program, as well as FERC’s own guidelines and processes. The panel focused on the service and emergency spillways, reviewed the Independent Forensic Team (IFT) report from January 2018, and made recommendations for dam safety at Oroville.
There are several design, construction and physical factors that contributed to the spillway incident determined by the FERC panel and the IFT. The IFT and FERC panel agree on most physical causes of the incident. However, FERC looked at why design and construction issues were not caught by decades of reporting and monitoring and how to prevent similar incidents moving forward.
Effectiveness of Current Dam Safety Activities
Leading up to the Oroville dam incident, critical documentation was lost, and monitoring data was omitted. FERC noted that what were meant to be safety programs had turned into compliance programs, and missing data and analyses remained unaddressed for decades because of this.
The FERC panel found fundamental issues with the Department of Water Resources’ organizational structure, record keeping, determinations made for maintenance activities, and the reliance on previous reports instead of critical engineering analysis.
Recommendations for Change
The panel noted that many of the issues at Oroville could have been caught with proper documentation, monitoring, analysis and reporting. Requirements for standardized supplemental technical information and creation of a new FERC dam safety engineering review board were amongst their recommendations for their own programs. Additionally, the panel stressed that all dam safety reporting should be based on engineering analyses, record keeping, and monitoring data, rather than relying on previous records.
What does this mean for dam owners and the public?
We all can expect changes in dam safety based on lessons learned from the Oroville spillway incident. Whether you are most affected by the California Division of Safety of Dams statutory changes or the changes the FERC panel is suggesting, it is important to remember that all changes are based on public safety. The Oroville incident could have ended tragically, but instead it provided us with an opportunity to analyze dam safety at the state and national levels. Because of these necessary changes, the people and communities protected by dams are safer.
Other Mead & Hunt articles about Oroville:
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