How Did the Oroville Dam Crisis Get So Dire?

Maybe the Oroville Dam was cursed from the start. In December 1964, three years into the massive barrier’s construction, a huge flood struck the northwest, killing dozens. The dam was nearly overtopped, which could have led to its failure even before it was completed. Instead, the partially completed dam helped prevent a larger disaster by reducing the flow of the Feather River. Less than a year later, two trains working on the site collided head-on in a tunnel near the dam, killing four men in a fiery crash and damaging the tunnel, slowing down work on the project. The dam, which sits south of Chico and north of Sacramento, was eventually completed in 1968, creating the nation’s tallest dam. It forms the head of California’s massive, byzantine State Water Project (SWP). The SWP moves water from Northern California south toward Los Angeles, an average of 3 million acre-feet per year.

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