Institute for the Study of Societal Issues
Surveying the Reservoir: Public Records and the Archival Logics of the Oroville Dam
- Author(s): Rhadigan, Ryan
- et al.
Heavy flooding and forced emergency evacuations of over 180,000 local residents in February 2017 drew national attention to California’s aging and structurally damaged Oroville Dam. As a centerpiece of California’s six-hundred-mile State Water Project, the Oroville Dam plays a significant role in water allocation throughout the state. While recent media coverage highlights how infrastructural damage and bureaucratic delays to the dam’s federal relicensing process have cast a shadow of uncertainty over the dam’s future, considerably less has been said about the controversies surrounding the Oroville Dam’s planning and construction, and how that history continues to shape and impact the present. A particularly neglected aspect is the dam’s continued role in disrupting the lifeways of California’s indigenous Konkow Maidu communities and displacing Konkow Maidu people from a significant portion of their ancestral territory. By engaging in a historical analysis of the Oroville Dam’s construction and present-day operation through the heuristic use of the concept “archival logics,” this paper explores how the modified hydrology enacted by the Oroville Dam not only reconfigures indigenous material and political space, but also consolidates, reorders, and displaces local forms of knowledge. Through close readings of ethnological and archeological surveys produced in compliance with state and federal laws during the construction and relicensing of the Oroville Dam in the mid-2000’s, this paper demonstrates how the continued operation of the Oroville Dam both necessitates and mediates public archival practices that enroll, reroute, and intervene in Maidu acts of political and epistemological sovereignty.