Oroville response

Infrastructure, what next and how to get there with sUAS monitoring

2017 has climaxed into the ‘perfect storm’ and it not all about the record wet weather belting the west coast for these last two months. It started decades ago with little oversight into our critical infrastructure as program budgets were cut and the can kicked down the road. There were some early warning signs, and just not in California as detailed below. What a professional sUAS (small unmanned aerial system) company like NAA can provide is the complete ‘system’, which is to say not a guy with a drone from Walmart taking pretty pictures. Sorry DWR but this attempt is little better than a helicopter overview. I am hopeful that the real video of the details and site survey data is being held back for internal use and this was what was ‘approved’ for release. NAA has the experience with civil  infrastructure and inspections with clients such as California Department of Transportation, Yuba County Water Agency and various local quarries delivering volumetrics and detailed analysis. We are a safety first operation and strive to maintain our 100% safety record, by putting drones to work where it is hazardous to put people. Our ability to shoot both stills and video in 4k HD from just about any possible angle from 1’AGL to the legal maximum of 400’AGL. We are fully compliant with all FAA requirements for UAV use in the field, and all of our PIC’s are licensed FAA card holders. We carry a minimum two million dollar liability insurance policy for all of our field work. All of our data processing is done on a secured offsite server and our clients have 24/7/365 access to their private accounts. These pictures below are from our standby drill for the Lake Oroville Dam response and completed video. We stand at the ready to help your operations get the data you need, in the way you can use it.

New Age Aerial office, materials, equipment and GA fixed wing operations

Current national news coverage of our critical infrastructure failures 

*The Minneapolis I-35W bridge collapses (1)was caught in real time on video. Yes “that bridge” that failed that caught the national spotlight. Did it have to fail and take lives with it?
*The concerns in Wisconsin  as expressed by Gov. Scott Walker (2) are indeed valid and he brings attention to a growing deficit in spending and up keep.
*As reported by Ron Nixon of the NYTIMES (3) in 2015 on the critical status of the nation’s bridges, dams and roads go unrepaired and lists being made for triage, just like in an emergency room. He goes on to state that “Spending on infrastructure has remained flat for decades. According to data from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, governments have collectively spent 2.4 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product on infrastructure since 1956. Transportation experts say that percentage should be higher because repair needs are rising. Last year<2015>, about $416 billion was spent on infrastructure — about $320 billion from the states and $96 billion from the federal government. Much of America’s infrastructure was built many decades ago with the understanding that the structures would remain in place for no more than 50 years or so. But many structures have exceeded that age. Nationwide, 73 dams have failed since 2010, not including the recent ones in South Carolina, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials. The data shows that most of the failures were caused by extreme weather. The average age of the dams that failed was 62 years.  Most recently, in South Carolina, 36 dams collapsed after heavy rain. About 19 people died in the flooding, mostly in their cars as waves of rushing water covered their vehicles. State regulatory documents show that many of those dams, some of them more than 100 years old, had a history of problems and that the state’s dam inspection program had long been criticized for being among the weakest in the nation. In 2014, the state spent just $260,000 on its dam safety program. “As far as I’m concerned, all the deaths that we had in the state can be attributed to the collapse of dams,” said state Representative Joseph H. Neal, a Democrat, who represents parts of Richland County.” (3)

Lake Oroville Dam updates from various quoted sources as they relate to inspections and monitoring potential:

More than a decade ago, federal and state officials and some of California’s largest water agencies rejected concerns that the massive earthen spillway at Oroville Dam — at risk of collapse Sunday night and prompting the evacuation of 185,000 people — could erode during heavy winter rains and cause a catastrophe. FERC rejected that request, however, after the state Department of Water Resources, and the water agencies that would likely have had to pay the bill for the upgrades, said they were unnecessary. Those agencies included the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which provides water to 19 million people in Los Angeles, San Diego and other areas, along with the State Water Contractors, an association of 27 agencies that buy water from the state of California through the State Water Project. The association includes the Metropolitan Water District, Kern County Water Agency, the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the Alameda County Water District. Federal officials at the time said that the emergency spillway was designed to handle 350,000 cubic feet per second and the concerns were overblown. “It is important to recognize that during a rare event with the emergency spillway flowing at its design capacity, spillway operations would not affect reservoir control or endanger the dam,” wrote John Onderdonk, a senior civil engineer with FERC, in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s San Francisco Office, in a July 27, 2006, memo to his managers. “The emergency spillway meets FERC’s engineering guidelines for an emergency spillway,” he added. “The guidelines specify that during a rare flood event, it is acceptable for the emergency spillway to sustain significant damage.” (4)

The poor condition of the dam is almost too good a metaphor for the condition of the state as a whole; its possible failure is a reflection of California’s civic decline. Oroville Dam, along with Shasta Dam, is the crown jewel of California’s state and federal system of water transfers. Finished nearly 50 years ago, the earthen Oroville Dam is the tallest dam in the United States. The resulting Lake Oroville stores 3.5 million acre feet of snow and rain runoff, and is central to transferring water, eventually via the California Aqueduct, from the wet north to the dry southern half of the state. Yet the California Water Project and federal Central Valley Project have been comatose for a half-century — despite the recent drought. Environmental lawsuits and redirection of critical state funding stalled final-phase construction, scheduled expansion and maintenance. Necessary improvements to Oroville Dam, like reinforced concrete spillways, were never finished. Nor were planned auxiliary dams on nearby rivers built to relieve the pressure on Oroville. (5)

The nearly $1 billion auxiliary spillway at Folsom Dam, scheduled to be completed later this year, stands in contrast to the troubles 75 miles away at the state-run Oroville Dam, where thousands of people fled last week after an eroded spillway threatened to collapse — a catastrophe that could have sent a 30-foot wall of floodwater gushing into three counties. Together, the two dams illustrate widely diverging conditions at the more than 1,000 dams across California, most of them decades old. The structures also underscore the challenge of maintaining older dams with outdated designs. State officials now face questions about maintenance at Oroville Dam, the nation’s tallest at 770 feet, and why a decade ago they dismissed warnings from environmentalists that more needed to be done to strengthen its earthen emergency spillway. At Oroville, opened in 1968, construction crews recently patched cracks on the main spillway, and a state inspector judged the repairs “sound” in a February 2015 report. However, a gaping hole ripped open on that spillway two weeks ago, starting the series of events that led to use of the emergency spillway and evacuation orders for nearly 200,000 people.(7)

John France, vice president and technical expert on dams for the engineering consulting firm AECOM, said the problems at Oroville should raise alarms across the country.“Most of the dams in the United States are over 50 years old, when we didn’t understand floods as well as we do now. So we have a number of dams in the U.S. that have spillways that aren’t large enough for the floods that they should be designed for,” France said.(8)

Additional rounds of stormy weather will take aim at Northern California through the weekend and into next week which could complicate the repair efforts. However, officials said Wednesday that they believe the dam will hold up. An emergency evacuation of Yuba City and Marysville was ordered late Sunday afternoon. Gridley and Live Oak were included in the evacuation alert on Sunday evening. Several evacuation centers were set up around the area.  Late Sunday night, officials said the threat has diminished somewhat as the erosion was stopped. California Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency order late Sunday evening in response to the dam’s overflow crisis. “I’ve been in close contact with emergency personnel managing the situation in Oroville throughout the weekend, and it’s clear the circumstances are complex and rapidly changing,” he said in a statement. (9)

The federal-state discussion about the worst-case scenario over the years highlights steps that California’s water agency and others still should take to do more to improve warning and escape for people downstream, say local officials and a Florida-based evacuation expert. Those measures include widening the entirety of a mixed two- and four-lane state highway leading away from Oroville and other communities and doing more to improve public-warning systems. The federal dam regulators also called for annual “public education…that describes what residents should do during an emergency” at the dam. As it was, some families who leaped into their cars to flee on Sunday found themselves caught in traffic jams hours later in the path of potential danger. (11)

Countryman oversaw federal reservoirs across California, Nevada and Utah, explaining rigorous dam inspections still come with anomalies. “The things that we think we know, we meticulously take care of,” Countryman said. “It’s the things we don’t know and are unaware of that can cause a problem.” There are currently 1,585 dams across California, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. Oroville Dam was completed in 1968 and is among the more than 1,100 dams in the state built before 1969. Dams are continuing to age as the state’s population — and its dependence on water — grows. “We build it, and we’re all excited, and it works pretty well for 50 to 75 years, and then it starts having problems. It’s a potential danger,” Countryman said. “Certainly, the older the structure is, the more inspection that it needs, and the more rehab it needs, periodically, to bring it up to current standards.” However, there is concern about a lack of care for dams nationwide. The American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report card in 2013, giving the United States a D+ in dam maintenance. (12)

Further indications that the worst of the storms have not been fully realized

Landslides not only happen at the coast, they also occur in Northern California as a result of the rain causing evacuations in Nevada City, in which some from the Oroville floodplain decided to evacuate to this community because of it high base elevation. (6)

California Highway Patrol has announced the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge is closed indefinitely after a CalTrans assessment on Wednesday afternoon showed growth in the support column fractures. There will be a further assessment on Feb. 21. (10)



(1) CNN
(2) Wisconsin Public Radio
(3) NY Times
(4) San Jose Mercury News
(5) LA Times
(6) FOX 40 Sacramento
(7) AP
(8) CBS Sacramento
(9) Accuweather
(10) Monteray County Now
(11) KCRA Sacramento
Wiki on Oroville Dam
Wiki on Feather River
Good site for daily updates: KQED