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Published On: Tue, Feb 14th, 2017

Oroville Evacuation of 188,000 Remains in Place – Massive Work to Secure Dam in Progress

nsnbc : The evacuation of some 188,000 downstream the Lake Oroville Dam on the Feather River remained in place on Monday. Assessing the spillway at the Oroville Dam the evacuation order is likely to rain in place on Tuesday as well as experts fear the spillway dam could fail. Work is underway to repair the worst damage. Water Department Acting Director Croyle noted he never heard of a 2005 motion to secure the spillway to avoid potential disaster.

Damned close to disaster.

Damned close to disaster.

The encouraging news from Oroville is that the situation hasn’t ended in a catastrophe and that the level of Lake Oroville is dropping and has dropped so much that work aimed to repair the worst damage and secure the dam is underway. Another encouraging news is that people are generally helping each other and that Oroville police only reported very few burglaries. Less encouraging is the weather forecast – another storm is due to hit the region Wednesday night – and then there is the fact that a motion to secure the spillway was tabled in 2005 already, and dismissed.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told the press that all evacuations remain in effect as dam operators check damage to both the regular spillway and the emergency spillway. Honea dismissed rumors that the evacuation orders would be lifted as inaccurate. People downstream the dam are also advised to stay away from recreational wildlife and fishery areas as they are flooded and dangerous.

Sherriff Honea said that the lifting of the evacuation order was as difficult a decision as the decision to evacuate. He underpinned that the evacuation would only be lifted after it was certain that it was safe to have the more than 180,000 people return. He added that all involved parties are working on a re-population plan” to ensure the orderly return when it is safe to return. He noted that:

“This is still a dynamic situation. … We’re trying to assess the damage (at the spillway), and we need to have time to make sure that before we allow people back into those areas it is safe to do so.”

Water levels have been lowered but a rainstorm is expected Wednesday night.

Water levels have been lowered but a rainstorm is expected Wednesday night.

The evacuation was called on Sunday at 4p.m. local time when the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) became concerned that water flowing over the north lip of the dam and over a never-before-used emergency spillway was eroding the structure.

The DWR noted that the dam itself is not compromised. However, erosion in the area of the emergency spillway could cause that concrete wall to collapse, sending a wall of water down to the Feather River below. The wall is about 20 feet tall, and the top 20 feet of the lake held more than a quarter-million acre-feet of water Sunday.

The emergency spillway’s lip held barely, but it held. The water level of the lake dropped overnight so that water is no longer flowing into the emergency chute and the dangerous erosion of the landscape, including land near the foundation of the wall has stopped.

On Monday afternoon helicopters were dropping bags of large rocks at the site of the eroded emergency spillway in an attempt to stop the erosion of land near the parking lot (left side of the dam in video below).  Before that, DWR photographs showed concrete being poured in a hole that was eroded by the emergency spillway’s flow, close to the lip of the dam.

Sherriff Honea stressed that the fact that water isn’t any longe gushing over the wall of the dam and the emergency spillway is a major milestone. He added that the objective remains to lower the lake level by 50 feet in preparation for anticipated wet weather and further inflow to the reservoir. The California DWR was still releasing 100,000 cubic-feet per second of water down the disintegrating regular spillway in an effort to lower the lake, which as of Monday evening had dropped more than 8 feet since it reached its peak Sunday afternoon. It was about 7 feet below the emergency spillway overflow.

Lake Oroville Dam Repair_Feb 2017

A damned colossal task ahead – because a motion from 2005 wasn’t taken serious?

Flow from the Diversion Pool into the Feather River have also been increased in an effort to draw down the water level so debris that has collected at the base of the spillway can be removed. That is adding an extra 10,000 cfs to the water flow past the inner city of Oroville. The DWR stated that at 5 p.m. Monday, 40,000 cfs of water was flowing into the reservoir, with 100,000 cfs going out.

Acting Director for the DWR, Bill Croyle said Monday that it wasn’t clear when exactly the goal of lowering the lake level by 50 feet could be achieved. He said significant progress could be expected in the coming days and weeks. The fact that another rainstorm is expected Wednesday will also delay plans to lower the lake level, but as for now, it is expected that the water level has been lowered so much that another spill over the wall and further potentially disastrous damage can be prevented.

Somewhat controversially, Croyle expressed “confidence that our infrastructure is holding up”. Others would say “it is hanging on – by its fingernails”. Croyle said “officials weren’t aware why the emergency spillway began to erode. Even more controversial was that Croyle, when asked about a 2005 legal motion that urged federal officials to require the emergency spillway to be lined with concrete to avoid erosion answered that he “wasn’t familiar with that document”.

The request was filed with the federal government in 2005 by three environmental groups. In their motion, these groups stressed that the dam, which was completed in 1968, didn’t meet modern safety standards because heavy rainfall could cause water to follow over the emergency spillway and possibly lead to a failure of the hillside. A closer look at the video above will show that the erosion of the hillside to such a degree that the wall was in danger of collapsing, or that the hillside to the left of the dam (in the video) near the parking lot, could have eroded so the wall would have been utterly useless.

Croyle just repeated “I am not familiar with the 2005 documentation or conversation. … I’m not aware of the findings or what that was based on, so I can’t respond to that.” In other words – no comment – next question – no answer whether or not the department would look into the case and communicate with federal authorities about it.

U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, told the press that his office had been in contact with federal officials to coordinate resources. He added that his office had contacted the White House about the crisis. LaMalfa announced he had sent a letter to President Donald Trump, requesting that the president declare a major disaster to direct federal resources to help address a “crisis of growing proportions and assist residents of three counties currently under mandatory evacuation orders.”

LaMalfa stressed that the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people “is the very definition of a disaster,” and that the “well-being of our residents is the No. 1 priority and we must do everything within our power to ensure their safety.” He also underpinned that it was important to get through the crisis without any loss of life or injuries. He added that immediately, when the worst is over with, work must begin to restore the function of the spillway and the dam so it can cope with the water after the next season’s snowfall.

CH/L – nsnbc 14.02.2017

Follow-up article, February 15, 2017

Oroville Immediate Evacuation Order Changed to Evacuation Warning

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