Dam 80 years older than Oroville strong due to infrastructure improvements

SAN MATEO, Calif. (KGO) -- A red sunset is a sight people around the Oroville Dam may have wished they could appreciate Monday. Instead, it happened more than 100 miles away.

A stunning sunset occurs over the Crystal Springs Reservoir in San Mateo, Calif. on Feb. 13, 2017.


The beautiful sight happened at Crystal Springs Reservoir, where an Oroville-type crisis is highly unlikely because old has met new in the form of concrete.

RELATED: Oroville dam running on temporary licenses, license expired in 2007

"It survived the 1906 earthquake which was a major test for this facility," said Dan Wade, who directs dams and infrastructure for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. In 2003, they embarked on a $4 billion, system-wide upgrade, which included the dam at Crystal Springs Reservoir.

"When you do infrastructure upgrades, you are modeling for a worst-case scenario," said Charles Sheehan, who speaks for the SFPUC.

As old pictures and postcards show, the Crystal Springs dam was a wonder of the world when it opened in 1888...the largest concrete dam ever built in that era.

A century later, however, studies revealed its original, 88-foot wide spillway to be insufficient for handling a worst-case storm. So, as part of the upgrade, the SFPUC raised the dam by nine feet, and more than doubled the size of its spillway.

Now, the dam can drain. "We can let water out faster than it comes in during a maximum event," Wade told me.

We asked, "Could you do that before?"

"No." he said. And, he sleeps better at night.

Moreover, Crystal Springs can hold 15 percent more water than before, while maintaining a margin for safety.

RELATED: No end in sight for Oroville evacuations, residents make

Imagine that. A dam eight years older than Oroville, and apparently safer.

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