"A Never-Happened-Before Event": As Oroville Dam Drains, A Problem Remains

Tyler Durden's picture

As discussed previously, the biggest priority for California officials tasked with restoring the damaged Oroville Dam as they race against a coming Wednesday storm, is to plug the hole in the damaged spillway while draining as much water as possible ahead of the coming rainfall.

The good news, as the chart below shows, is how the water level at the Oroville reservoir has been declining over the last 24 hours. According to a spokesman for the Department of Water Resources water is pouring down the facility's damaged main spillway at a rate of about 100,000 cubic feet per second, or more than twice the rate as water flowing into it. By 10 a.m., the lake's water level was 4 feet lower than the emergency spillway, which suffered damage during its first ever water release over the weekend. Officials added that the water level of Lake Oroville has been steadily dropping at a rate of roughly 3 to 4 inches per hour.

A subsequent tweet by the California Office of Emergency Services updated that as of 12:30pm Pacific, the lake level had declined to 6 feet below the damaged emergency spillway.

Workers with the CA Department of Water Resources are scrambling to reduce the lake's overall water level to 50 feet below the emergency spillway elevation of 901 feet. That mission has taken on added urgency ahead of the previously reported heavy rains expected later in the week. According to a subsequent tweet by the California DWR, the dam is now releasing over 110,000 cubic feet per second from the main Oroville Spillway, with the lake level dropping around 8' per day.

The current flows from the dam can be seen in the tweet below:

Asked about the outflow, authorities admitted their confusion: "It's hard to look at a crystal ball and predict how it's going to evolve," said Kevin Lawson of Cal Fire. The flow into the lake is roughly 37,000 cubic feet per second, so they're shedding a net 60,000 or so cubic feet per second.  They're hoping to drop 8 feet per day.

It's unclear if they'll hit the target of lowering the lake by 50 feet before the next rain hits. But they're expecting a smaller level of precipitation at a cooler temperature, so it may not run into the lake as quickly, giving them more time.

"We're going to deal with that as it comes in," said acting state Department of Water Resources Director Bill Croyle.

There were also questions about problems with the emergency spillway, which began eroding instead of serving its function.

"I'm not sure anything went wrong," Croyle said. "This was a new, never-happened-before event."

* * *

Earlier in the day, California authorities released various photos showing the situation at the Oroville Dam as of noon Pacific time. As noted, water levels at the reservoir have receded, and the damaged emergency spillway is no longer receiving water. But the damaged main spillway is still going strong, as the photos below show. The photos also show the erosion along the emergency spillway.

While the lack of deterioration is good news, the LA Times has released the following map showing the areas which are still at risk of flooding near Lake Oroville.

And in addition to the threat of the upcoming rains, a residual risk with the emergency spillway is that the erosion from the overflowing water may erode the earth by the dam, destabilizing the structure. According to AP, the erosion at the head of the emergency spillway threatens to undermine the concrete wall and allow large, uncontrolled releases of water from Lake Oroville. Those flows could overwhelm the Feather River and other downstream waterways and levees and flood towns in three counties.

Department engineer and spokesman Kevin Dossey told the Sacramento Bee the emergency spillway was rated to handle 250,000 cubic feet per second, but it began to show weakness Sunday after flows peaked at 12,600 cubic feet per second.

The aerial photo above of the emergency spillway at Lake Oroville shows signs of major damage.

Meanwhile, perhaps because the worst possible outcome has failed to materialize, local officials have been forced to defend the order to evacuate nearly 200,000 people in the affected areas. The Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea on Monday defended his decision a day earlier calling for evacuations of more than 100,000 residents down river from the Oroville Dam after concerns that a spillway could fail and unleash a 30-foot tall wall of water on the region.

“I recognize and absolutely appreciate the frustration people who were evacuated must feel,” Honea said at a press conference. “It wasn’t a decision I made lightly.”

The calls for cities and towns downriver from Lake Oroville to evacuate were unexpected and triggered panic Sunday evening. Some people abandoned their cars on the highway and left with the clothes on their back after the Department of Water Resources announced that an emergency spillway would fail within the hour.

Honea shot down rumors the evacuation could end Monday afternoon. They're working on a "repopulation" plan but there's no timeline. "Getting those people home is important to me. But I have to be able to sleep at night knowing they're back in that area," he said.  His department had to move 500 inmates from Butte to Alameda County jail during the evacuation. They're being held there for the time being.

This means that the over 188,000 residents of Yuba, Sutter and Butte counties who were ordered to leave their homes, are now in limbo and may not be able to return until the barrier at the nation's tallest dam is repaired, according to Sheriff Honea. He did not say how long the fixes could take and offered no timetable for lifting the evacuation order. It also remains unclear what the current status of the plan to drop loads of rock on the eroded spillway at Oroville using helicopters.

Meanwhile, recalling the evacuation, local resident Nancy Borsdorf described a scene of chaos on her way out, including drivers abandoning cars as they ran out of gas. "People were just panicking," said Borsdorf, who was at a shelter Monday in Chico.

"We've always loved and trusted our dam," she said, having lived in Oroville for 13 years. "I'm really hopeful Oroville wasn't flooded."

Asked if the spillway was supposed to handle far more water, the acting head of California's water agency said he was "not sure anything went wrong" on the damaged spillway according to AP. Bill Croyle said sometimes low-flow water can be high energy and cause more damage than expected. His comments came after officials assured residents for days that the damage was nothing to be concerned, then ordered everyone to get out in an hour.

The water level in the lake rose significantly in recent weeks after storms dumped rain and snow across California, particularly in northern parts of the state. The high water forced the use of the dam's emergency spillway, or overflow, for the first time in the dam's nearly 50-year history on Saturday. 

The sudden evacuation panicked residents, who scrambled to get their belongings into cars and then grew angry as they sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic hours after the order was given. Raj Gill, managing a Shell station where anxious motorists got gas and snacks, said his boss told him to close the station and flee himself. But he stayed open to feed a steady line of customers.

"You can't even move," he said. "I'm trying to get out of here too. I'm worried about the flooding. I've seen the pictures — that's a lot of water."

"It was so scary. It was like a bad movie, everyone was panicking and driving crazy. It was really scary," said Maribel Cervantes, 35, of Yuba City. Cervantes threw some clothes in a hamper and joined throngs of evacuees fleeing Yuba City late Saturday. She said she's worried about getting back to work as a nursing assistant, but she still has deep concerns about potential flooding.

"How can they assure us that it's safe?" she asked. "How can we be 100 percent sure when one minute they're saying the spillway was about to collapse?"

Raul Nava, 29, waited until about midnight to leave his home in Yuba City. "We're scared about flooding, our house is right next to the levees," he said. "We just packed food, water, you know the basics, and headed out."

Nava said he and his wife and his dad first tried to get in to an evacuation center in Colusa but were turned away. It took them five hours to reach the shelter in Woodland, he said. With him he brought his two pit bulls, and 10 pit bull puppies. "We're ready to go home," he said.

Merida Lozano, 40, of also of Yuba City, said she too left in a hurry Saturday afternoon. She and her four kids got to the emergency shelter at the Yolo County Fairgrounds around 1 a.m. after being turned away from several area hotels that were full, she said. "We had no clue what was going on until about 4, when we heard about the evacuation orders," Lozano said. "The roads were empty and all of the sudden there were cars everywhere. My emotions are all over the place...at least we made it here with the kids." Lozano said her sister stayed behind in Yuba City.

"We're just waiting to go home right now," she said. "I hope they learn from this and reinforce the spillway so that we aren't in this position if this were to ever happen again."

A Red Cross spokeswoman said more than 500 people showed up at an evacuation center in Chico, California. The shelter ran out of blankets and cots, and a tractor-trailer with 1,000 more cots was stuck in the gridlock of traffic fleeing the potential flooding Sunday night, Red Cross shelter manager Pam Deditch said. A California Highway Patrol spokesman said two planes would fly Monday to help with traffic control and possible search-and-rescue missions.

Other shelters have been reporting they are now full.

While some shelter sites were at capacity, people were still trickling in to the Yolo County Fairgrounds Monday morning. The parking lot was about half full, and deliveries of cots and water were still coming in. Yolo County health officials, law enforcement and mental health experts were on site to assist.

To manage the chaotic exodus and ensure evacuated towns do not become targets for looting or other criminal activity, at least 250 California law enforcement officers were posted near the dam and along evacuation routes. 

This afternoon Oroville vice mayor Janet Goodson, who is marooned in Red Bluff after evacuating Sunday night, said she respects and understands the sheriff's call for continued evacuations, and says that safety is the foremost issue, but she said she also feels frustrated.

"To be honest with you, there is a degree of frustration," she said quoted by the SacBee. Asked whether it was a mistake not to have done more to improve the spillway earlier, she said she prefers to look forward.

"We are where we are," she said. "We can learn from mistakes, things we failed to recognize. We have to move forward in a collaborative fashion and make sure this does not happen in the future. This is a learning experience for us."

* * *

The California National Guard notified all its 23,000 soldiers and airmen to be ready to deploy, the first time an alert for the entire California National Guard had been issued since the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. So far their services have not been needed and the only incident to date came after Oroville police said they made one arrest and have identified a second suspect in connection with two looting crimes that occurred Sunday night.

Suspects smashed windows at a Dollar General and a liquor store, stealing alcohol and food. "Is it looting? That (term) probably does apply. We're just calling it burglary," Police spokesman Joe Deal said.

Otherwise, there have been few calls for service and few problems in town since the Sunday night evacuation call. Deal said 25 officers are on patrol, focused on residential areas and low-lying areas near the river. Oroville police are being supplemented by officers from the Orland police department, the CHP, and the sheriff's department. Most calls Monday have been from people asking police to check on the welfare of relatives or friends.

* * *

But the biggest criticism facing officials is that the sudden decision Sunday to evacuate tens of thousands of people was a departure from earlier assurances, when officials had stressed the Oroville Dam itself was structurally sound. Unexpected erosion chewed through the main spillway during heavy rain earlier this week, sending chunks of concrete flying and creating a 200-foot-long, 30-foot-deep hole that continues growing.

Officials are most concerned about the dam's emergency, earthen spillway that began taking on water after water was diverted from the main concrete spillway because of the damage. Engineers do not know what caused the cave-in. Chris Orrock, a Department of Water Resources spokesman, said it appears the dam's main spillway has stopped crumbling even though it is being used for water releases.

The lake is a central piece of California's government-run water delivery network, supplying water for the state's Central Valley agricultural heartland and homes and businesses in Southern California.

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YouJustMadeTheList's picture
YouJustMadeTheList (not verified) 1980XLS Feb 13, 2017 5:56 PM

"Fixed fortifications are a testamant to the stupidity of mankind"

~ General George Patton

TahoeBilly2012's picture

There is another issue I haven't heard an update on. The hyrdo section at the bottom of the dam was stopped from water release because the spillway was choking the river with mud and debris and the release was backing up into the hyrdo area, I assume threatening to flood it. They need to be able to open the bottom of the dam, whether that gets hydro power or not, they need water running out the normal bottom of the dam. No one has updated on this, kinda spooky.

My Dad's entire career was at this dam, starting in 1960, as engineer on the hydro. I haven't heard an update from him though.

CrazyCooter's picture

Here is a pic from Wiki showing the whole setup prior to the recent events:


I presume that is the hydro outlet on the right side of the picture (white water discharge).

I could see where the whole plant could potentially flood out if the water level got high enough. That said, the spillway is supposed to be rated for much higher flows than they are doing now - so maybe the manner of discharge is causing a backup? Seems like it would drain well enough though, assuming debris didn't block the river.



Miss Expectations's picture

When the debris built up at the bottom of the damaged spillway the water started flowing TOWARD the hydro outlet.  I don't know how high it got...but I watched the muddy water going the wrong way for at least one day.

Automatic Choke's picture

It is all about the main spillway now.....

svayambhu108's picture

Those bags with big rocks are a very bad ideea, they will create a lot of turbulances on all sides and increase errosion, they need smooth, plain surfaces, idiots.

Stu Elsample's picture

yeah...that's true....

HEY (snapping finger)...i have an idea...the big helicopters can air lift cement trucks to dump concrete. And afterwards they can hang illegal alien cement finishers by ther ankles to trowel it all smooth.


WordSmith2013's picture

Oroville Dam Emergency: This Is Who and Why They Did It




Was the Oroville Dam Spillway engineered to collapse at an appointed time?
boattrash's picture

I, as well as all of my fellow Arkansans, have been fully vindicated! Cali has a dam spillway failing and their best plan is to stand back and throw rocks at it FFS.

From now on, when you want to tell those "Dumb Arkie" jokes, you can just plug Cali in its place.

A Nanny Moose's picture

Communism at work.

"Put government in charge the desert, and in 5 years you will have a shortage of sand." - Milton Friedman

Unfortunately, water is far more precious than sand....

svayambhu108's picture

Perfect storm, remind, me which cities are fucked up, in case, is there a way to be bad for the US economy, just this event in case the dam breaks

Chris Dakota's picture
Chris Dakota (not verified) svayambhu108 Feb 13, 2017 7:56 PM

ZH deleted my post on the other thread because I guess they don't like that star talk.

Anyway this dam is going to break wide open on or around Fed 26th.

svayambhu108's picture

At the end of it the dam is usually intact but empty when there is a spillway failure. They will show pictures with the dam intact, saying they were right.

peddling-fiction's picture

Chris, I can see this post of yours-->


You may be (we all may be) subjected currently to Quantum Attacks.


What that means is that they can tweak what you see, and what you don't.

It may be gaslighting as well, by hiding the post, and then showing it again, to mess with your mind.

Chris Dakota's picture
Chris Dakota (not verified) peddling-fiction Feb 13, 2017 8:10 PM

Doesn't matter, it scares a lot of people because I am so accurate.

I get it.

I posted why I think that, and that one about 2020 went away too and now back.

peddling-fiction's picture

I know that astrology is very accurate.

But the kings want their good astrologers to work only for them.

TheRideNeverEnds's picture

That's reassuring because ZH is never correct. I knew the dam was safe the first time it was reported here as in imminent danger of collapse.

I will start to worry when ZH headlines are saying the dam is totally safe and will never collapse. It's like the market, once Phoenix Capital et al start talking about buying the market THEN it is time to worry, till such a time it's all good.

83_vf_1100_c's picture

What is Gartman saying about it, there is your definitive answer.

I'm just a layman but if the problem is erosion of the soil creeping under the concrete...giant plastic slip and slide! The Chinese could special build one in a few days. /s

DeplorableAndy's picture

Spillway entry point and discharge channel looks entirely too narrow to accomodate the volume of water from a 100-year event. 

Red Raspberry's picture

In 2013 the spillway eroded in the same spot.  bad patch job for sure.

Mr.BlingBling's picture

Is it my imagination or are there about a half-dozen large ripples visible in the portion of the main spillway that subsequently failed?

Jim Sampson's picture

Schadenfreude soup folks.   Eat up!

TahoeBilly2012's picture

Cooter you are correct, it should be designed to take the water, but it is churning up concrete, rock and earth, as the main spill is damaged too. I am not sure what that all means but one of the reports I though mentioned they had shut down flow at the bottom, which was one reason the backup spillway overflowed.

FreedomGuy's picture

There are several problems occuring at once. The erosion is the primary danger because it can prevent the dam from being able to release enough water to maintain control. However, this is California where the ground is notoriously unstable. At this point if even a small trembler occurs it could cause collapse of hillsides and the dam itself. I was looking at a diagram of the dam and this is a very simplistic earthen dam. From what I saw it is not even anchored in bedrock at the bottom and I am not sure it had a rock toe like most earthen dams would have. It was so simplistic I thought perhaps the diagram was wrong.

In any case, water is a lubricant for soils and even rock, especially under pressure. That is why most dams of this size would be solid, shaped and anchored much like Hoover. California is also famous for mudslides and unstable soils, although I do not know the geology of this area.

I do not know how prone to quakes this area is but that could be the thing that triggers a catastophic failure. Short of that they can hopefullyl manage the water levels barring overly heavy rains. As an amateur observer I would rate the risks for massive failure as 1. Quake, 2. Erosion (which prevents full scale water release and weakens the structure). 3. Massive new rain which exceeds the holding capacity, yet, again.

I read they plan to be 30 to 50 feet lower when the rain hits. That would be a decent margin of safety. What I have not heard is if there are other dams up some of the other forks. My guess is they must be at capacity if there are.

If I lived below the dam I think I would not return for quite awhile.

Provocateur's picture

As a geologist friend of mine loved to say, "a river is the WORST place to build a dam".

peddling-fiction's picture

Chris Dakota pointed out that Jim Stone showed how the Oroville spillway was visibly damaged many days before the overflow (I also saw it on Jim's site), maybe even intentionally.

Jim Stone is also right that his domain jimstone.is has been erased from some DNS servers. Here is his direct IP address to enter without a domain name.

If you want the real scoop about Oroville, read it at Jim Stone's site at:

Oroville Spillway Damage

Pizza Gate

Uzda Farce's picture
Uzda Farce (not verified) peddling-fiction Feb 13, 2017 8:52 PM

More fake news there, "CNN".

Jim Stone sez: "I strongly suspect the main spillway was destroyed by a bomb by communists and subversives in California's government", and he confidently predicts that "There is no way out of it. OROVILLE DAM WILL ENTIRELY FAIL".


peddling-fiction's picture

For many of us here at ZH, to combine the words Commie and California seems to make sense.

Subversive activities have been increasing, especially coming from the Left.

Feel free to interject.

Lots of dams were presumably emptied in CA, so to destroy one that is filling up, to continue the "drought" and destroy the farmers, does not seem a stretch.

Jim showed photos of the destroyed spillway many days before the overflow, so it seems plausible.

Maybe what they want is to practice emergency measures in Sacramento as a dry run for what comes next.

With heavy showers coming in on Thursday, I believe it is possible that the already destroyed lower half of the spillway, will easily start eroding what is keeping the dam standing. So Jim seems to be on the money on this one.

Should I continue?

beemasters's picture

Hope all's well soon. Trump would probably have to consider allowing illegals in now to fix all nation's infrastructures before building that wall. Nobody legal will work on minimal wages, honestly.

rccalhoun's picture

is this flood problem caused by global warming or global cooling?  im speaking at an anti-trump rally tonight and want to have my facts correct

Paper Boy's picture
Paper Boy (not verified) rccalhoun Feb 13, 2017 6:08 PM


1980XLS's picture

Use "Climate Change" and you should cover all your bases, "Weather" or not you are disingenuous.

BSHJ's picture

Do both and a few other lies to go with it, you don't need facts with the crowd on the left

Tiwin's picture

Make sure you mention his love of the police robbing you at roadside and throw in some Israel fealty.

New American Revolution's picture

It's being caused by corruption in the ruling California democratic party of the $400,000,000 bond issue to update flood control issues, but which hasn't been used for that,... along with a long list of crony corruption in the regulation of every utility in the state controled by democrats.  I figure your question is satire and I'm just playing along to expose the obvious.  If not, that would make you a tool.  

Chauncey Gardener's picture

Being an ex-California resident (I lived there from Sept., 1969-June, 1998) I got to see firsthand how Moonbeam and his cronies of the lunatic Left cause irreperable damage to the State and Oakland, where he was mayor. It is gross negligence combined with malfeasance on a grand scale. Refusal to do common sense resource management was to place the Delta Smelt, a bait fish, above the economy and ecosystem support from the San Joaquin farmers who went bankrupt, many who are legal immigrants who had their farms for multiple generations. If this isn't grounds for recall/impreachment of Jerry Brown, then all is lost for the once golden state. It's time for the last sane, adult, LEGAL citizens of CA to act, or to sell their property and get out while the getting is sill possible.

FreedomGuy's picture

It is always Manmade or Anthropogenic. When it is drought, as it was earlier last year, it is stark evidence of warming. It is easiest for people to associate drought with warming. However, it is now heavy rains so you just say that it causes unpredictable weather and weather extremes. While some areas get drier others get wetter and neither can handle it. The most important thing is to imply that weather was always predictable before now and before Republicans were in office. Also stress that we will all die as global warming is definitely due to capitalism, conservatism and Republicans. For bonus points mention that infrastructure has severely crumbled in the three weeks since Trump has been in office and the government needs more money and power and Democrats to fix it.

johngaltfla's picture

Well gee whiz. Herr Governator Jerry Brown only had a 6 year head start to start repairing and reinforcing the damned dam.

Guess all that money for illegals getting health care and college tuition was much more important.

All is not sad however. Warren Buffett got shit on by a Federal Judge today:

Heap Big Sad Warren Buffett Tonight: Judge Refuses to Stop DAPL Pipeline Construction
small towel's picture

If ever there was needed an example of the American Bastardisation of the English Language it is the word 'spillway'.

barysenter's picture

Sure, Trump will help. But there will be conditions. Don't turn your back on Chicom Jerry Brown.

D-2's picture

Didn't California want to secede last week?  Now they want to stick around for some bailout money. Next week, it'll be back to secede.

SgtSchultz's picture

What about the delta smelt?  The salmon run?  After all, isn't that water going to damage the Sacramento delta?  Where are all the bright eyed environmentalist activitists bringing lawsuits to stop the damaging water flow?  Gee, can't a judge just issue an order and get everything fixed?

GUS100CORRINA's picture

Another fine example of DEMOCRATIC LEADERSHIP in ACTION. OOPS ... we better get back to work for the people.

If I lived in CA, I would be absolutely beside myself over the incompetence of these DEMOCRATIC MORONS with REPROBATE MINDS. While they are all concerned about TRUMP being POTUS, what they should have been more concerned about was the well being of CA citizens and their property.

CA citizens ... RISE UP and GET RID OF THESE LOSERS. Just unbelievable how this situation was ignored for so long, particularily the last couple of years. Even GOD granted CA mercy by allowing it to be dry for so long because He knew that a problem existed with the DAM.


So It Goes's picture

I thought CA was ready to secede.  Ummm - guess not right now.

44_shooter's picture

"110,000 cubic feet of water per second" pour out of the lake, yet I can't water my fucking lawn for more than 10 minutes twice a week in Pasadena....Fuck California.

vato poco's picture

the Eagles nailed it all them years ago. "call a place a paradise, kiss it goodbye,"

JustPastPeacefield's picture

Well if it's any consolation, they're calling it a shithole these days. That doesn't seem to stop the third-worlders from coming though.