Northern California is experiencing what should be an oddity, but tragically it is becoming all too familiar in the United States — the Lake Oroville dam, which is a key part of California’s water infrastructure system and supports one of the world’s leading agricultural regions, is near failure due to torrential rains and deferred maintenance.
Rain is a normal feature of California’s weather. Periodically it is amplified by El Niño and La Niña systems that suck up warm moisture in the Pacific and drop it on land, including the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where this winter the rains melted much of the snowpack and delivered a double whammy of water downstream.
But there could be even more to the story of these heavy rains. For many parts of the world, climate scientists believe that a changing climate will mean condensed wet seasons with more intense storms dropping heavier rains in shorter periods of time, all of which could overwhelm a dam.
The rains in