Oroville Dam Crisis

I’ve written about the tremendous rain and subsequent flooding in northern California, and specifically about the damage to the spillway at the Oroville Dam, the erosion caused by the first-ever use of the emergency spillway, and the evacuation orders for some 118,00 residents near and south of the dam.

The damage to the dam and downstream are still the stuff of much discussion and concern, especially as we await the eventual melting of the 180% of normal snow pack in the Sierras. Emma O’Neill, John Blanchard and Kurtis Alexander of the San Francisco Chronicle present a detailed account of events as they unfolded. This is a must read if you have any interest in California, the amazing but now inadequate century old California water system, and what we all face as climate change ravages our planet.

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While I was restoring my home office after the washing machine flood of 2016, I found a stash of beads and spacers I’d forgotten I had. I think I got into making bracelets and a few necklaces while I was recovering from spine surgery as something to do that required some thinking I could manage on pain meds. I don’t know if I grew bored with the process or stashed them away planning to come back to them when I had time, but whatever the case they’d been gathering dust for many years when I unearthed them in the office clean-up.

A friend’s sister is also into beading, so we went to a few bead stores during Spring Break. I bought more beads and spacers, and decided to make some new bracelets. This time I went with stretch bracelets rather than trying to add clasps which I recall as a pain in the ass.

I was on a bit of a roll once I got started. Here’s what I made:

I started with these. Blue is my favorite color, and I liked the brown beads too. I them tried some of the small beads I’d had forever.

sm_beadsThen I made a few for a friend who also likes blue. I cindyfind stringing the beads relaxing. But alas, Spring Break is over, and I must return to the grind.

Perhaps I find some time before the semester ends to get back to beading. I hope so.



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Madman at the Wheel

I knew when Trump was elected that we were headed into a mess. Throughout his career and certainly throughout his campaign, he showed he was wholly unfit for the office of President of the United States. He’s a thin-skinned narcissist who acts before he thinks, who knows nothing about governing,who bullied his through the rest of the GOP presidential candidates then conned enough Americans into thinking he someone who could better their lives.

I was also pretty sure the degree of his narcissism indicated he was mentally unstable.

What I didn’t understand was how quickly his weaknesses would be exposed to the world. From his tantrum about the clear evidence turnout for his inauguration was much smaller than the turnout for both of President Obama’s, to his demands that his press secretary berate the press for accurately reporting that the crowd gathered for his inauguration was small and that Hillary Clinton earned 3.8 million more votes than Trump did, the first day of his presidency made clear that lies and chaos would mark each thereafter.

I won’t recount all the lies and chaos here except to note that  his National Security Advisor was forced to resign less  than a month in the job. But I must say that Trump’s latest meltdown is a serious ratcheting up of the crazy, and if there is some  sort of strategy guiding this particular craziness, I can’t quite figure it out.

So here’s my thinking:

–this is yet another attempt to divert public attention from the ever-increasing evidence of his campaign’s if not his administration’s connections to Russia. The shoe that dropped last week–that Jeff Sessions lied to Congress during his confirmation hearing–added more intrigue to the multiple investigations of Trump associates already found to have been in contact with Russian agents during the election, and surely pissed Trump off. So maybe he’s planning to claim that the entire Russian story is a plot concocted by the Obama administration, the intelligence agencies and the mainstream press to bring him down? But if this is all a smoke and mirrors attempt to divert attention from the investigation of ties to Russia and/or to undermine the credibility of the investigation, the intelligence agencies and the press, it’s a huge risk and one just as likely to gin up these investigations and further anger those working in the intelligence agencies he wants to discredit.


Mother Jones, November/December 2016 Issue

–perhaps this is proof that Trump is even crazier than we thought—that he’s not only a full-blown narcissist, but he’s also delusional, extremely paranoid and thinks the Obama administration, the intelligence agencies and the courts are out to get him–that they conspired to “tap [his wires] to find evidence of his and his team’s connections to and work with Russian operatives. And he believes this to be the case because he read it in a Breitbart News report that repeated an assertion made  by right-wing talk-radio host Mark Levin. Did I note Trump is delusional?

–the other possibility is that Trump’s phones or calls or whatever were really tapped, intercepted, or monitored. Now, if this is the case, it has nothing to do with the Obama administration; no president can order a wiretap. So if federal agents actually obtained a warrant to wiretap Trump, it means the Justice Department had to convince a federal judge that it had gathered sufficient evidence to show Trump had committed a serious crime or was an agent of a foreign power. What this means, then, is it’s highly likely Trump committed a very serious crime, prehaps even treason. Why he’d want to call attention to this alludes me unless he’s just too stupid to connect A (he was wiretapped) to B (that means there is proof he’s committed a serious crime).

So what we’re left with is this: we have in office a president who is dangerously paranoid and making judgments based on right-wing crackpots, or we have in office a president who has, in all likelihood, committed treason, or we have in office a president who is willing to try to erode public trust in basic institutions to cover his own ass.

I’m not sure which of these possibilities is the worst, but it’s clear the country is being led by someone wholly unfit to lead.

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When It Rains . . .

Note: this is a long overdue post about the Oroville Dam crisis. Since I didn’t have time to write about events as they unfolded, this is a long post and one written in small chunks as I found time to write.

Thought I might follow-up on my hasty post a few weeks about the dangerous situation at the Oroville Dam. As my Facebook friends know, I’ve been obsessed with the failure of the spillway, the erosion caused when the emergency spillway was put to use for the first time in the dam’s history, and the subsequent problems as the water moved downstream. This obsession results from the fact that the possibility of the demise of the Oroville Dam was a major concern during my early years as a child growing up just south of the dam.

The Oroville Dam began operation in 1968. I was in kindergarten, and my Dad took me and some of the family to the opening ceremony. I don’t remember much about the ceremony itself, but I do remember it was hot and my ice cream cone melted so fast my scoop fell off before I had much of a chance to taste it. I also remember my Dad telling me about the construction of the dam and what could happen if it failed.

water_if_collpseThe potential for failure was a common topic of conversation for a while: “Wait until there’s a good size quake; then we’ll know if the thing is sound or not.”  In school they added what to do if the dam failed to the list of prepatory drills: fire drills, earthquake drills, nuclear bomb drills, and now dam failure drills. What I most remember about the dam drills was the directive “get to high ground” and “get up into the Buttes(the white area in this image) if possible.” It wasn’t a duck and cover drill because desks and tables weren’t going to stop the wall of water headed our way.

After a number of earthquakes and the passage of time, most of us stopped thinking about the threat of collapse and took advantage of the dam construction by visiting the salmon ladder to watch the tired, battered, and scared salmon make their way up and around the dam so they could reach their spawning grounds, visited the hatcheries and paid a nickel to feed the little fisheys, and fished, skied, boated and swam in the massive lake the dam created. In school I learned about the construction of the dam, it’s designation that I remember as “the largest earth-filled dam in the world,” and the floods that were common in the area before it’s construction.

All of these memories came rushing back on February 7th when the Department of Water Resources increased releases down the main spillway to prepare for incoming storms. 3D2C831600000578-4226368-The_problems_The_crisis_was_sparked_when_authorities_stopped_all-m-58_1487256590028When the water  reached about 60-thousand cubic feet per second, which is nearly 200-thousand less than the spillway should be able to handle, a hole formed in the concrete.

They stopped releasing the water so officials could examine the hole, but they had to resume releases again on Wednesday, February 8, because Lake Oroville was rising


Water flows over emergency spillway

too quickly.The goal was to release enough water to avoid using the emergency spillway. Then on the  morning of Saturday, February 11, water started spilling down the emergency spillway as the lake reached 901 feet. It’s important to note that this was the first time water flowed over the emergency spillway in the dam’s 49 yr history.

The water was rushing down the emergency spillway caused the hillside to erode, and the Department of Water Resources and federal and local officials feared it would collapse and send uncontrolled water out of the lake and down the river to homes and businesses.Late in the afternoon, the  Butte County Sheriff’s Office mandated an emergency evacuation of people in Oroville and Thermalito. Evacuations soon followed for those living near the Feather River from Oroville down Hwy 99 through Gridley, Live Oak, and Yuba City. Areas of Marysville, Linda and Olivehurst were also evacuated.

Keeping a close eye on the damage, the Department of Water Resources began releasing 100,000 cubic feet of water per second down the main spillway which was still damaged


and would likely sustain even more damage as water was released. Down the Feather river folks patrolled the levees looking for seepage, boils, and threats of breaches. Although the the Feather river reached dangerous levels, damage was limited to localized flooding and a levee breach at Manteca. A week later, and as soon as a series of storms passed and Lake Oroville reached what the Department of Water Resources believed to be an acceptable level, they shut down the water being released from the dam to assess the damage.


See the people just above for perspective

As you can see, the damage is massive. Much of the spillway is gone, there is massive erosion, and rebuilding the spillway will take months and millions of dollars.

Both the massive amounts of water released and the sudden cut off the flow from the dam has also wrought damage down stream.On February 28th, California state biologists began working near the dam and discovered the release of water into the Feather River had been throttled back so quickly that there were dry sandbars, small puddles of water, and dead and dying fish wherever they turned. Although federal fisheries regulators had urged the Department of Water Resources to taper the spillway releases more gradually to prevent as many fish from


No salmon in this shot

getting stranded; DWR agreed to try but noted haste still had to be a priority because they needed to take advantage of the break in the wet weather to assess damage and bring in heavy equipment to repair what they could before another storm arrived. While that work proceeds, state biologists will probe every little pond along the river channel in the hope of recusing fish. In just one pond that formed in 3 inches of water, biologists rescued 23 baby Chinook salmon.

So here’s where things now stand: we have massive damage to the spillway and around the emergency spillway, levees that need to be strengthened and at least one breach that riverbanksneeds to be repaired. And today I learned riverbanks are collapsing along the Feather River. The possibility of more storms, of course remain, and we’ve yet to see what the melting of 180% of normal snowfall in the Sierra will bring.
Within a few months, the problem of five or more years of too little water in California has become a problem of too much water. Perhaps you saw some of the many photos of Lake Oroville reduced to a small stream like this one from August 2016. august_2016Something we might want to think about as SCROTUS undoes all the regulations President Obama put into place to slow down the ravages of climate change.
The rapid change from drought to deluge shouldn’t be a surprise according to Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University. As a recent report on NPR notes, he says “California is likely to see more extreme flooding with climate change. And the reason is pretty simple. If it’s warmer, storms produce more rain instead of snow.” Among other problems, though, is the fact that California’s water system, designed a century ago,  was built, in large part, around the snowpack in the Sierra Nevada. The good news is that right now the state’s flood system can handle that slow melt; what it can’t handle, as the events in February made painfully clear, is a tremendous amount of rain all at once. Or, as Diffenbaugh puts it “Our water system was really built in an old climate [and that’s] a climate that is no longer the climate of California.” UCLA professor Alex Hall agrees. In a February lecture at Fowler Museum last, Hall shared his current research  which
predicts temperatures in the Sierra Nevada will rise up to 10 degrees by the end of the century if nothing is done to stem carbon emissions. More precipitation will fall as rain and snow will melt sooner—changes that California’s aging infrastructure is ill-prepared to handle.

Hall says, in fact that changes in “Sierra water resources may pose the most formidable—perhaps existential— threat” of all climate change effects in the state. It’s important to note, of course, some climate change effects are already being felt. Hall examined Sierra snowpack from 2012 to 2015—the peak of California’s recent severe drought, and found that without carbon emissions and a period of warming that stretches back to the start of the industrial revolution, there would have been more snow on the ground.

But Hall isn’t just worried about California. He argues that if we continue with business as usual, “Sierra Nevada and global climate will be unrecognizably different.”

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No Time to Blog

Too much work and too little play has made me a dull blogger. So, here are a few of my favorite Scott Metzger cartoons




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We’re Not the Ones Intent on Indoctrination

This Thursday, in a brief speech at CPAC (the Conservative Political Action Conference), Betsy DeVos, the recently confirmed Secretary of Education, criticized folks like me and accused us trying to indoctrinate students. She devoted only a paragraph to higher education, but here’s what she said, after asking how many in the audience were college students:

The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.

Clearly DeVos doesn’t know anything about university faculty or our students. I think all faculty would be happy to have students do what we tell them—that is come to class, do the reading, participate in discussion, write papers, think for themselves, and attend to some of the life of a university such as concerts, plays, lectures.

And while those are all things faculty ask of our students, those are not the things DeVos thinks we do. She thinks we tell students for whom they should vote, what policies they should support, and that they should reject religious beliefs. She also believes we silence students who don’t agree with our positions. But anyone who has spent any time in a college classroom knows this isn’t how things work. That this is a conservative fantasy created to explain why education is such a threat to the right who fear knowledge because it makes it possible for people make informed choices the GOP, of course, is the real threat to the First Amendment as we’ve seen in their attack on journalists and news organizations, and their attempts to control what information the public can access.

In her brief comment, DeVos also makes clear she doesn’t believe today’scollege students can think for themselves. To turn borrow from Freire for a moment, she thinks their


Betsy DeVos’ view of a university classroom

empty vessels sitting in their chairs or at their computer waiting to be filled with their professors’ ideas, research, beliefs, and politics.

Of course, this isn’t the case, nor do any of the professors I know see students in this way. We know our students come to our classes filled with ideas, beliefs and the politics of their family


Actual University Classroom

and friends, their communities and churches, and we recognize part of our challenge is to help them learn how to clearly articulate these things, to bring them out in the open, to understand where


Reality of a University Classroom

they come from and to see that there are views different from (not better than) their own—in short to provide them with a place where they can exchange, question, and make decisions about all sorts of ideas, beliefs, and political perspectives and do so within the context of history and culture–ours and others. The idea that we could tell our students what to think and they’d simply absorb what we say is so far from reality. But so is everything that folks in the current administration think.

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California Drowning

Curious what all the fuss is about in California these last two week? And, no, I am not talking about the resistance to Trump–that is alive and well. I’m talking about the damage to the Oroville dam spillway and emergency spillway and the tremendous storms that have hit the state. Here’s a look at California reservoir levels in 2014 and just yesterday.


May 8, 2014


February 18, 2017

Any questions?

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