LATEST STORIES

INFRASTRUCTURE

As dams burst, Trump seeks to gut key safety regime

In Northern California, a string of "atmospheric rivers" rained down on the Oroville Dam last winter. The spillway at the nation's tallest dam failed, forcing the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people.

In Houston, Hurricane Harvey overwhelmed two dams in late August. "Get out now!" Harris County officials urged residents on Twitter as water overflowed spillways.

In northwest Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria strained the 90-year-old Guajataca Dam. Spillway failure. 70,000 people ordered to evacuate.

CONTINUE READING >>>

ENDANGERED SPECIES

Dams seen driving 'mass extinction' of salmon

For millennia, Native Americans subsisted on a spring run of chinook salmon returning to the Klamath River in Northern California.

That changed when the last of four dams was built on the river in 1962 and the number of "springers" plunged, a catastrophic turn missed by federal regulators who lumped together the spring and fall salmon runs.

Now, new genetic research seems to confirm what the tribes have known for generations: The spring-run chinook are unique. They are fattier, look different and taste better. To survive, they must get to areas beyond the four dams on the Klamath for cold-water habitat in the spring and summer. CONTINUE READING >>>

WESTERN WATER

How a useless dam nearly destroyed an iconic beach

VENTURA, Calif. — Dozens of longboarders caught rolling waves one summer morning off Surfers' Point, where the Ventura River meets the Pacific Ocean about 65 miles north of Los Angeles.

A wide beach with large, lumpy sand dunes speckled with grasses separates a bike path and the city's fairgrounds from the ravenous Pacific.

Surfers' Point appears to be a rare natural California oceanfront. But looks deceive.

CONTINUE READING >>>

More stories in this series

WESTERN WATER

Jerry Brown's tunnels would cement his family legacy

Sixty years ago, California Gov. Edmund Gerald "Pat" Brown built the biggest waterworks the world had ever seen.

The State Water Project transformed California, moving billions of gallons of water from the wet north to the dry south using dozens of dams, pumping stations and a 400-mile-long man-made river. It serves 25 million people and irrigates hundreds of thousands of acres of cropland.

But spectacular as it was, the project was flawed.
CONTINUE READING >>>

INFRASTRUCTURE

Climate change erodes thin safety margins at Calif. dam

As catastrophe loomed at Northern California's Oroville Dam in February, Tom Stokely's mind drifted 140 miles north to another troubled behemoth.

Stokely watched as nearly 200,000 residents were evacuated below Oroville when the emergency spillway of America's tallest dam began to erode, threatening to unleash a 30-foot wall of water.

"I thought, 'Boy, they are a lot better off than at Trinity!'" Stokely said, referring to Oroville's cousin to the north, Trinity Dam.

CONTINUE READING >>>

INFRASTRUCTURE

Engineers rebuild behemoth in face of earthquake risks

ALAMEDA COUNTY, Calif. — If you think the era of big dam building is over in America, check out the Calaveras project here.

Since 2001, construction crews have been excavating a gap in a ridge as tall as a city skyline near San Jose. They've sliced off part of a hillside and laid a concrete spillway longer than four football fields with 50,000 cubic yards of cement — enough to pave a sidewalk between Washington, D.C., and New York.

A custom conveyor belt this spring will carry 3.5 million cubic yards of earth — the same amount used in Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza — to build a 220-foot dam. CONTINUE READING >>>

INFRASTRUCTURE

Deluge overwhelmed dams, exposed lax state oversight

COLUMBIA, S.C. — The heavens opened late on Oct. 3, 2015, unleashing a torrent on Jason Snyder's house and the dams and man-made lakes above it.

At about 5 a.m. the next day, Snyder, 44, packed up his wife and two kids. They walked up the street to a neighbor's house on higher ground.

When he returned to his place minutes later, water from one of the most polluted creeks in the state was knee-high and rising.

CONTINUE READING >>>

WESTERN WATER

Wry Jeremiah saw folly in dam construction's 'go-go years'

"Have you read 'Cadillac Desert'?"

The question about Marc Reisner's 1986 masterpiece comes up in nearly every conversation about the American West's intractable water problems.

Reisner's vivid descriptions of opaque water policies and projects illuminated the environmental and economic consequences of projects gone awry.

"In the West ... water flows uphill towards money," he wrote.

CONTINUE READING >>>

INFRASTRUCTURE

Battle looms as Trump ally crusades for dam construction

At a large campaign rally last May in California's agricultural hub, the Central Valley, Donald Trump told farmers he would solve their water supply problems — even during droughts.

"If I win," Trump said, "believe me, we're going to start opening up the water."

His promise hooked Tony Azevedo, a 45-year-old farmer who had seen water deliveries to his 11,000 acres slow to a trickle, forcing him to take 2,000 acres out of production. Trump became his candidate.

CONTINUE READING >>>

INFRASTRUCTURE

Republicans in hot seat over landmark deal for dam removal

SISKIYOU COUNTY, Calif. — Hostilities between farmers, Native Americans and fishermen over the wild waters of the Klamath River here nearly turned violent at the turn of the century.

During a 2001 drought, federal regulators cut off water deliveries to most of the 210,000 acres of farmland in southern Oregon and Northern California to safeguard the river for threatened salmon.

The farmers revolted. They stormed the irrigation canals, and one group took a blowtorch to the headgates.

CONTINUE READING >>>

INFRASTRUCTURE

Risks soar, bills come due as 20th‑century dams crumble

OROVILLE, Calif. — For nearly 50 years, Oroville Dam has been the linchpin of a sprawling state plumbing system that draws water from wet Northern California to 25 million people and thousands of acres of farmland in the arid south.

That changed Feb. 7 when a crater as large as a football field dropped out of the dam's concrete-lined spillway.

Catastrophe loomed. It appeared the earthen barrier restraining the state's second-largest reservoir might fail, unleashing a deadly 30-foot wave on communities downstream. Officials ordered nearly 200,000 people to evacuate.

CONTINUE READING >>>

Advertisement