"Oroville Dam is not as glamorous or well-known as the Golden Gate Bridge, and few Californians have ever seen it. But the monumental structure, built into a rocky canyon 70 miles north of Sacramento in the Sierra foothills, is a critical part of modern California, providing water for 23 million people and vast stretches of farmland as the anchor of the State Water Project.
At 770 feet tall, the structure that holds back the mighty Feather River is taller than the Washington Monument and as thick as 10 football fields at its base. Its reservoir, Lake Oroville, is 10 miles long, the second largest reservoir in California behind Shasta Lake near Redding.
Bob Bea, a professor emeritus of civil engineering at UC Berkeley, said Friday that the partial collapse of the spillway highlights the need for the state and nation to invest the money updating its aging highways, dams, bridges and flood control projects.
“A 50-year-old person isn’t as robust as a 16-year,” Bea said. “And neither is a 50-year-old dam. Most of our infrastructure dates back to this time period. It’s now in its old age — the geriatrics phase — and we are still using a reactive approach to manage these systems. We wait until we have a big problem. It is much more cost-effective and safe to be proactive than waiting to fix something after an infrastructure disaster.”"