Executive Intelligence Review


Federal Energy Regulators Warn That 1,700 Hydropower Dams Need Monitoring for Hazard

Feb. 12, 2018 (EIRNS)—In January, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Federal agency with oversight for hydropower, sent a letter to the owner-operators of the entire U.S. inventory of 1,700 hydropower dams, calling on them to inspect and monitor their structures. On Jan. 5, 2018, FERC’s Independent Forensics Team had issued a finding that the February 2017 failure of the Oroville Dam Spillway was mostly the fault of the owner-operator, the California Department of Water Resources, for not properly monitoring and correcting conditions with the dam.

The FERC stated that, “flaws in the Oroville Dam Spillway existed since construction that were missed by the owner [since original construction in 1968], regulators, and consultants. It is very clear that just because a project has operated successfully for a long period of time does not guarantee that it will continue to do so.”

In effect, the FERC is urging the operators to police themselves, in an ineffectual effort to avoid disaster. Many of the owners or operators do not have the resources to see to all the safety work required. Some of the structures are past their engineering life, and need major overhaul. It is part of the national infrastructure deficit.

Repair of the Oroville Dam spillway has cost nearly $870 million. Failure of the spillway, which released an uncontrolled torrent of water causing erosion of the surrounding bedrock, so threatened the substructure of the dam—the nation’s tallest, at 770 feet—that it forced the emergency evacuation of nearly 200,000 people from the immediate area downstream last year, during February 2017.