Miniaturizing America's tallest dam

June 9, 2017, Utah State University
Engineers at the Utah Water Research Lab constructed a 1:50 scale model of the Oroville Dam spillway. Credit: Matt Jensen/Utah State University

Engineers at Utah State University's Utah Water Research Laboratory have constructed a 1:50 scale model of the Oroville Dam spillway.

Chief engineers Dr. Michael Johnson and Dr. Zachary Sharp worked with a team of 15 engineers and technicians to construct the working in just 40 days.

The approximately 100-foot-long, 60-foot-wide model replicates the spillway in its current state and features the terrain conditions that were formed following the damaging flow events in February. Johnson and his team are taking measurements on various sections of the model to determine depth of flows, wave action, pressures, velocity profiles and more.

Johnson, who specializes in fluid mechanics and experimental hydraulics, says the model will provide useful information about hydraulic conditions in and around the damaged spillway.

"Our goal is to assist the design team in California in making the best decisions moving forward with data from the model," said Johnson. "Data from the model will provide useful information that will help engineers make better-informed decisions about repair and replacement."

Engineers at the Utah Research Lab constructed 1:50 scale model of the Oroville Dam spillway. Credit: Matt Jensen/Utah State University

This is the second time a Utah Water Research Lab team has been involved with engineering efforts at Oroville Dam. Johnson helped design an engineering solution that improves the river valve outlet system in low-level reservoir . His work helped alleviate the effects of drought from 2014-2016.

Dr. Zachary Sharp, left, and Dr. Michael Johnson are the chief engineers on the project. Johnson specializes in experimental hydraulics and has designed other engineering solutions for Oroville Dam. Credit: Matt Jensen/Utah State University

Explore further: Gaping hole in spillway for tallest US dam keeps growing (Update)

Related Stories

188,000 under evacuation orders near Northern California dam

February 13, 2017

At least 188,000 people remain under evacuation orders after Northern California authorities warned an emergency spillway in the country's tallest dam was in danger of failing Sunday and unleashing uncontrolled flood waters ...

Two dams illustrate challenge of maintaining older designs

February 19, 2017

Twelve years ago, widespread destruction from Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast helped compel federal engineers 2,000 miles away in California to remake a 1950s-era dam by constructing a massive steel-and-concrete gutter ...

What we know so far about problems at the tallest US dam

February 16, 2017

It's been more than a week since engineers at the nation's tallest dam noticed damage to its emergency spillway, launching a series of events that culminated with the threat of catastrophic flooding and the two-day evacuation ...

Recommended for you

Semimetals are high conductors

March 18, 2019

Researchers in China and at UC Davis have measured high conductivity in very thin layers of niobium arsenide, a type of material called a Weyl semimetal. The material has about three times the conductivity of copper at room ...

Researchers discover new material to help power electronics

March 18, 2019

Electronics rule our world, but electrons rule our electronics. A research team at The Ohio State University has discovered a way to simplify how electronic devices use those electrons—using a material that can serve dual ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (1) Jun 09, 2017
I live downstream of the Oroville dam. The reservoir's total capacity is 3.5 million acre-feet or 4.3 billion cubic meters. The dam's spillway failed in early February, there were 188,000 people evacuated from the immediate area, and we feared that the emergency spillway erosion would lead to a total failure, permitting the top 10m of water coming out all at once.

Our infrastructure is crumbling, it's just plain dumb luck we don't have 25,000 fresh graves due to our collective negligence.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.