Week in review: April 14

Water to flow in Oroville spillway, Bertha breaks through and a dinosaur for Moab.


Oh, Oroville

The damaged emergency spillway for California’s Oroville dam continues to make headlines this week, nearly two months after heavy rainfall ripped out a huge chunk of the concrete structure. The main spillway was damaged, too; 100,000 people were evacuated over worries of a catastrophic failure. Now, another round of heavy rain is headed for the region this weekend, and officials say they’ll need to use the spillway to lower the level of the lake. More from the LA Times here.

The political damage of the February crisis still lingers. Lawmakers have expressed frustration at the lack of transparency over what went wrong and Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration invoked a federal security law to avoid releasing documents on how they handled the crisis. The spillway repairs will likely be completed by summer; when the political furor will die down is less clear.

Free Bertha

On April 4, Seattle’s one and only Bertha — that’d be the giant drill bit that’s spent the past four years digging a tunnel for a controversial highway reroute — broke through. Washington State Department of Transportation documented the event from every angle, relishing a moment some Seattleites thought might never come and others hoped wouldn’t. The growing city hopes the new tunnel will help ease its traffic jams, but in 2015, we wrote about the growing evidence that bigger highways don’t solve traffic woes. Reread “Big dig, big disgrace” then watch drone video and more on WSDOT’s Twitter page for Bertha.

Moab’s own dinosaur

Researchers from Brigham Young University celebrated their discovery this week of a new dinosaur, Moabosaurus utahensis, named for Moab, Utah. The researchers pulled together a complete picture of the 150-million-year-old docile drifter from thousands of fossilized bones recovered just outside Arches National Park.

The discovery provides new insight into the state’s long-term history: A large number of Moabosaurus and other dinosaurs died in a severe drought. According to Science Magazine: “Survivors trampled their fallen companions’ bodies, crushing their bones. After the drought ended, streams eroded the land, and transported the bones a short distance, where they were again trampled. Meanwhile, insects in the soils fed on the bones, leaving behind telltale burrow marks.”

The long-necked plant eater is 32 feet long — which, as far as sauropods go, makes it tiny. From the many skulls they had, BYU researchers say the Moabosaurus brain was the “size of a Chinese egg roll,” the Salt Lake Tribune reported. Its teeth were rounded. The Moabosaurus couldn’t chew, but it could chomp. We think that’s rather endearing.

Klamath fisheries collapse

This week the number of Chinook salmon predicted to return to the Klamath River on the California-Oregon border this fall fishing season is the lowest number in recorded history — only about 11,000 fish. It’s the most catastrophic fisheries collapse in the river’s history, and will impact the four Klamath River fishing tribes. The fisheries collapse is linked to extremely elevated juvenile fish disease levels, diminished river conditions and poor ocean health. Assistant Editor Paige Blankenbuehler, who has covered the protracted fights over water and tribal rights within the Klamath Basin, recommends this story by Indian Country Today and this one about the last generation of tribal fishing.

Thomas P. O’Rourke Sr., Chairman of the Yurok Tribe said “this has devastated tribal members … the Klamath River is our grocery store, our church and our main highway — it’s our lifeline.” The Klamath River has a long history of water fights, tribal rights and diminished fisheries health. Read our coverage about the race to prevent the West’s worst salmon kill, and our story from last year after the landmark Klamath Agreements that would have helped tribes and secured water for farmers fell apart. The fisheries collapse is devastating, but removal of the four dams along the Klamath River, slated for 2020, could help restore healthy salmon stocks.

Salton Sea quick fix

Read up on California’s new plan to save the long-imperiled Salton Sea and then meet the people who make the scruffy area home in our feature from 2008.

Visit the parks for free this weekend!

Note: Thumbnail photo shows members of Bertha’s crew posing with the American flag after the tunneling machine broke into her disassembly pit on April 4. Courtesy Washington State Department of Transportation

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