Climate Change Creates Evolving Risks for Dam and Reservoir Systems
Two years ago this month, communities along California’s Feather River braced for the worst when the primary spillway at the Oroville Dam failed, and rising waters in the Oroville Reservoir overtopped the dam’s emergency spillway. Catastrophic failure was averted, but in the wake of that crisis, my colleague Dan Millea and other experts urged that the near miss should be a wake-up call about the need to inspect other dams to detect risks of similar failures. At the same time, climatologists speculated about how climate change may have contributed to the incident. Two years later, there is still no precise answer to that question, but experts agree that climate change is altering the environmental stresses for which dams have been designed in the past. Today we urge insurers to consider how climate change creates new and evolving risks to dams and reservoir systems, and the potential impact on the risks they insure.