How to help: Northern California wildfire relief

USU constructs giant model of failed dam

LOGAN, Utah -- Utah State University is playing a key role in the redesign and rebuilding of the Oroville Dam Spillway in California, which failed in February, jeopardizing communities downstream and threatening the long-term viability of California's biggest source of drinking water.

Record high runoff sent water streaming down the seldom used spillway, eroding a massive section of the spillway, with water carving a canyon into the nation's tallest earthen dam.

The Water Research Laboratory at Utah State University is now filled with a scale model of the dam: spillway, canyon and all.

The lab looks like a steel sided warehouse, but it actually sits atop a giant sump 12-feet deep, 12-feet wide and 180-feet long, with pumps able to push 100 cubic feet of water per second.

"Not many other organizations have this capacity," said Mac Mckee, director of the lab.

On Friday, the engineers who built the 1:50 scale model turned on the pumps and watched as water streamed, then cascaded, then roared down the ramp, eventually splashing out of the faux lake at the bottom and onto the lab floor.

That's okay, the lab is built to handle it, and the team working in Oroville is waiting on pins and needles to see results from the simulation.

Michael Johnson, Associate Professor of Hydraulic Research Engineering, just got the call to prove it.

"They asked me yesterday on the phone if we were working for the weekend, because they're so excited to get the information and data," Johnson said.

Johnson told them no. They've worked a lot of weekends, but they'll take Father's Day off.