Today was the fourth and final day of the Forces of Nature project. And we saved the best for last. Flooding is the most common and most expensive natural disaster in the United States. But there was nothing common about what happened in Oroville, California back in February of 2017. Today’s challenge was based on the near-disaster from last winter. “Dear FEMA, we have a crisis here in Oroville, California and need your response immediately. After about a week of heavy rain, Lake Oroville is at an all-time high water mark. If we don’t drain the lake we are afraid the dam will burst.”
Students entered class today and were presented with a lengthier version of the email above. They were asked to do three things: solve the spillway problem, plan the town’s evacuation, and predict incoming weather patterns. For most groups, it was a close call. The incoming rain storm was 3-4 days away, leaving just enough time to drain the lake. By opening the emergency spillway and leaving the regular spillway on low, they were able to keep the lake’s water level from getting dangerously high. Meanwhile, most they planned an evacuation to nearby cities like Sacramento, Chico, and Yuba City. In real life, the dam in Oroville never burst. It didn’t end up being the disaster that some predicted. But it was a clear example of why we study the topics in Unit 6. Earth’s systems can be a matter of life or death.