So what happened? Well, for the short version of a very long story it started with damage to the main spillway. Since water had to be continually released to make room for more water, the 250 feet long, 170 feet wide, and 40-50 feet deep hole could not be fixed. The spillway, in its damaged state, still had to be used though officials were hopeful they could monitor the flow and minimize further damage.
Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate, and more rain than expected came. Now the emergency spillway had to be used, and it had never been used since the dam opened in 1968. Within a day there was a problem––“the earth was eroding away in a path that could dig a canyon or tunnel underneath a concrete retaining wall holding in a 30-foot wall of water in Lake Oroville. If the hole grew . . . [it could cause] the failure of the concrete wall . . . resulting in a massive flood” (“Updates”).
This potential disaster, however, was not without a heads up. As reported in the LA Times, “More than a decade ago, several environmental groups argued that substantial erosion would occur on the hillside during a significant emergency spill,” and they encouraged officials to re-engineer the spillway.
For whatever reason, one most likely being that they never imagined “a significant emergency spill” ever taking place, the officials did not heed the warning, and the unimaginable did occur. Fortunately, this story had a happy ending. No break, no collapse, no loss of life.
Though we hope that we will remain steadfast and faithful in stressful situations or temptations, we really don't know how we will fare until those difficult times come, and the fate of the Oroville Dam gives us some insights as to why we sometimes don't. First of all, how we deal with the smaller issues determines whether or not our main spillway is in tact. Little cracks or chinks in our behavior, left unattended, only lead to more water seeping in until the hole grows bigger and bigger and our structure (integrity and steadfastness) are in jeopardy. When that happens, we collapse under the pressure.
Likewise, we too are often warned in advance (through God’s Word or another person) that if we don’t take care of a problem in our behavior or character now, when facing temptation or tough decisions, we won’t be able to resist and stand firm later. Unfortunately, like the state officials, we, too, often don’t believe that ultimate test will either come or that if it does, we will be able to handle it.
Whether we are dealing with earthly structures or our own spiritual integrity, we should learn the lesson of the Oroville Dam. Left unchecked, small cracks can lead to devastating ends.
“Updates: New storms approach, but officials confident Oroville Dam and spillways will hold up.” Los Angeles Times. 17 Feb. 2017. http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-live-updates-oroville-dam-oroville-dam-crisis-how-we-got-to-this-1487089359-htmlstory.html
Photo credit: Gonzalo “PeeWee” Curiel: for the Chico Enterprise–Record.