Perspectives: Safe and Sound

The safety of dams is a significant issue globally and one that defies geographic boundaries. After all, the tragic results of a dam failure are essentially the same no matter where in the world that dam is located, such as environmental damage and potential loss of life.

That’s why, in this issue of the magazine, we chose to focus some of our editorial coverage (see the article here) on the vital topic of dam safety. This issue also will be distributed at Dam Safety 2017, the Association of State Dam Safety Officials’ annual conference, and the Canadian Dam Association Annual Conference. Both of these audiences are naturally very interested in the topic.

Most of our North American readers, and I suspect a significant percentage of our readers from outside that region of the world, are familiar with the incident at Oroville Dam in the U.S. state of California in February 2017. I do want to point out that this was not a dam failure. The California Department of Water Resources, which owns and operates the facility, made it clear from the beginning that the safety of the dam was never in doubt.

Despite that, the fact that Oroville is the tallest dam in the U.S. at 770 feet and that more than 100,000 people were evacuated from their homes due to concerns about its ability to hold back floodwaters brought this story front and center in the popular media.

In the end, the dam held strong, and the 762-MW Hyatt powerhouse at the base of the dam was saved from significant damage. But, the main gated spillway and the emergency spillway both suffered serious erosion that deposited a massive quantity of debris in the Feather River downstream from the dam.

For more in-depth information on the situation, turn here. Also visit the Dams and Civil Structures page at, where we will provide regular updates on the situation at Oroville Dam as repair work continues. And we offer a third avenue to learn about dam safety: Our HydroVision International event, which is the world’s largest hydro industry event and will be held in Charlote, N.C., U.S., in June 2018. This event will feature sessions on the important topic of Civil Works and Dam Safety. For more information on this upcoming event, visit

In addition, back in July I read an article on about a potential dam safety situation at Tarbela Dam in Pakistan. The story said the federal government “stopped irrigation and water authorities from accelerating the inflow of water into the Tarbela dam, despite healthy river flows, after learning that the dam’s piezometers … have been out of order for nearly four decades.”

The article says the information came from “an official privy to the matter.” The situation reached the federal minister when agencies considered filling the reservoir behind the dam 3 to 4 feet per day in view of substantial flows in rivers. Instead, authorities decided to fill the dam at a rate of 1 foot per day until the piezometers were repaired.

The story says this decision was endorsed by the Water and Power Development Authority, which operates the dam and several associated hydro powerhouses.

So, again, dam safety is a global concern.

For those readers who aren’t responsible for dam safety, this magazine contains a lot of other great content. Some highlights include an article on machining work performed at New Zealand’s Whakamaru facility (see here) and information on how to make small hydro development in the U.S. affordable and acceptable (see here). Happy reading!

P.S. In July I saw unique news coverage about Oroville. Gold has been discovered in the sediment downstream of the facility. Nobody is going to hit the motherlode – news agencies reported the average haul from panning the river was worth $40 to $300 – but it is a fun reminder of the region’s heritage. Gold was first discovered in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1848, but most of the early “gold rush” prospectors did not strike it rich. In 1982, the U.S. Geological Survey reported there likely are still millions of tons of gold in the rock of those mountains. Maybe the area will see a second, more restrained, gold rush?

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