Nevada Dam Failure and Hole in Oroville Dam Spillway Highlight Problems With Aging Dams

February 10, 2017

February 10, 2017

Contact: Amy Kober, 503-708-1145

Washington, DC – The failure of a dam in northern Nevada yesterday and the appearance of a 30-foot deep hole in the spillway of the nation’s tallest dam – Oroville Dam in California – highlight the crumbling of our nation’s water infrastructure and the danger posed by aging dams.

The earthen Twentyone Mile Dam on Thousand Springs Creek in Elko County, Nevada burst following heavy rains. On the Feather River in California, erosion created a hole in the concrete spillway of the 770-foot tall Oroville Dam. Nobody was injured in the Nevada dam failure and officials say the hole in Oroville Dam’s spillway does not endanger the integrity of the dam or safety of downstream communities.

According to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, America’s dams are degrading faster than they are being repaired, the number of high hazard dams has increased over time, and the cost to rehabilitate dams continues to rise.

By 2020, seventy percent of dams in the United States will be more than 50 years old. Aging dams can pose a serious safety threat for individuals and entire communities.

Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers, made the following statement:

“Outdated dams can threaten communities. When they fail, they can destroy lives and property. Thankfully nobody was injured in Elko County, but this event raises the alarm about the danger that aging dams pose to many communities.”

“It is critical we make the right investments to ensure our rivers are healthy and our nation’s water infrastructure is safe. More frequent and intense storms and floods are straining aging dams and other infrastructure.”

“Where appropriate, communities are using dam removal as a solution to address the problem of dangerous, outdated dams,” he said.

American Rivers said that states can strengthen their dam safety programs by:

  • Making it the responsibility of dam owners to inspect and maintain their dams;
  • Requiring more frequent, detailed inspections of hazardous dams;
  • Increasing penalties for unsafe dams and violations; and,
  • Requiring dam owners to ensure that funds are available to repair or remove dams in the event they can’t or won’t meet safety standards.


American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects and an annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 250,000 members, supporters and volunteers.

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