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Oroville Dam failure cost highlighted, rainfall forecast means risk could rise

16th February 2017 - Author: Luke Gallin

Analysis from CoreLogic reveals that a staggering, estimated $13.3 billion reconstruction cost value (RCV) is at risk covering more than 50,000 homes across six counties, should the stressed Oroville Dam in California fail completely.

Reservoir levels for the Oroville Dam in California came extremely close to reaching capacity threshold levels from intense and high rainfall in February, leading to the evacuation of more than 200,000 people. Following the evacuation water levels reduced and returned to below the threshold, but an expectation of more rain in the coming days suggests the crisis is still ongoing.

CoreLogic, a global property information, analytics and data-enabled service provider, has released new analysis that says if the Dam were to completely fail more than 50,000 homes could be damaged, resulting in an estimated RCV of $13.3 billion, of which it’s unclear how much would be covered by insurance or reinsurance.

Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Sutter, Yolo and Yuba are the six main California, U.S. counties at risk from the complete failure of the Oroville Dam, and the estimated RCV provided by CoreLogic assumes the rebuilding of properties destroyed 100%, says CoreLogic in its report.

CoreLogic says that only 12% of the homes at risk are situated within a Special Flood Hazard Area (SFHA) as designated by FEMA, meaning that these homes will be covered for flood losses as SFHA homes are required to have flood protection.

However, CoreLogic highlights that many homes in the areas that would be damaged by the Dam’s failure aren’t required to have flood insurance, which results in low flood insurance penetration and suggests that a significant share of the estimated $13.3 billion RCV at risk might not be covered by any insurance at all.

Despite water levels returning below the threshold the region is expected to experience a substantial volume of rainfall in the coming days, and according to some analysis it might not take too much additional rainfall to take reservoir capacity levels back to near, or even beyond the threshold.

Impressively, data and analysis from the Axibase Time Series Database on the Oroville Dam shows real time analysis of the disaster, and provides some insight into how much rainfall it would take to reach the threshold level. It’s important to note that by no means is the analysis and predictions made by the Axibase Time Series Database definitive, but it does provide an interesting look into rainfall expectations in the region and what this might mean for the Oroville Dam.

The analysis states that as of 5am Pacific Time February 15th, 2017, a total 307,145 acre-feet (af) of space remained in the reservoir before reaching the threshold. The analysis states that the highest outflow per-day at the Dam is 142,034 af, which actually occurred on February 14th, 2017. The report then explains that multiplying rainfall per day by its af rate of 136,790.5 (amount of af added to reservoir for every inch of rainfall), and then subtracting the max outflow provides a storage amount added each day.

Taking the above into account, and using the remaining storage as at 5am Feb 15th, 2 inches of rainfall per day would take roughly 56 hours, or 2.334 days for the threshold to be reached. Ramp this up to 3 inches per day and the analysis shows that it would take just 27 hours, or 1.144 days for the threshold to be reached.

Now, according to meteorologist Eric Holthaus’ recent Twitter post, up to 12 inches of rainfall is expected in the Oroville Dam catchment basin over then next 10 days, which, when taken into account with the analysis from the Axibase Time Series Database, suggests that the threshold could come very close to being reached in the coming days.

Again, it’s important to note that by no means is the Axibase Time Series Database on the Oroville Dam definitive, but it provides a very useful, and insightful look into rainfall levels in the region and what this might mean for the Dam and California residents.

With an estimated $13.3 billion of RCV at risk from the complete failure of the Oroville Dam, insurers and reinsurers would be wise to keep an eye on rainfall expectations and make use of impressive, and insightful data such as that provided by the Axibase Time Series Database.

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