In Race Against Coming Storm, Workers Scramble To Plug Oroville Dam Hole Using Rocks: Live Updates

Tyler Durden's picture

Update 3: Here is the question officials are asking: can they drain the Oroville dam fast enough before the Wednesday storm? As the SacBee writes, water is flowing out of Lake Oroville's main spillway fast enough to cause lake levels to drop by up to 30 feet before the next storm Wednesday night. Officials hope that will be enough. Lake Oroville can fill fast during a big storm. During storms from Monday of last week through Friday, lake levels increased by 50 feet.

The main factor in how fast the lake drains continues to be the condition of the main spillway. Officials said Monday morning that the main spillway had not further deteriorated despite huge outflows cascading over it Sunday afternoon and evening. The more water drained from the lake by the next storm, the less chance that the lake again will fill to the point that activates the emergency spillway. Erosion on the emergency spillway Sunday night created the need to evacuate nearly 200,000 people.

With 100,000 cubic feet per second of water flowing out of the lake, lake levels were dropping about one foot every 3 hours on Monday morning, state figures show. That translates to a drop of about 120,000 acre-feet every 24 hours. At current pace, the lake will fall to about 400,000 acre-feet below its emergency spillway by Thursday morning. To get the lake back to the levels normally mandated for flood control, it would need to fall by about 700,000 acre-feet.

Officials have more modest goals. They said Sunday night that they hope to drain the lake by 20 to 30 feet by the next storm. At current pace, they will hit that target.

* * *

Update 2: Video clip of a flooded park located underwater from the Oroville dam

Update: some good news - according to state officials, an early morning inspection of the battered main spillway revealed that ramping up the water releases did no additional damage to the main release point for the dam. “There’s been no additional erosion on the main spillway,” said Chris Orrock, a state Department of Water Resources spokesman. “We will continue at 100,000 (cfs).”

Orrock added that while giant sandbags are being filled with crushed aggregate at a staging area overlooking the dam, it is still uncertain whether the aggregate will be helicoptered in to try to fix the erosion beneath the emergency spillway.

Bags full of crushed rock sit ready to be dropped into the damaged areas of the Oroville Dam emergency spillway on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017.
The larger rocks in the background are being crushed to fill the bags.

* * *

After discovering a hole in Oroville Dam's emergency spillway, officials said late Sunday that they will attempt to plug it using sandbags and rocks. But, as the LA Times notes, they stressed the situation remains dangerous and urged thousands of residents downstream to evacuate to higher ground. Video from television helicopters Sunday evening showed water flowing into a parking lot next to the dam, with large flows going down both the damaged main spillway and the emergency spillway.

They also showed lines of cars getting out of downtown Oroville. An evacuation center was set up at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico.

Almost 200,000 people were ordered on Sunday to evacuate from the area below the Lake Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the United States, after authorities said its emergency spillway could give way.

While officials said the situation seemed less dire overnight, Sacramento television station KCRA reported that helicopters from around the state were sent to drop chest-high bags of rocks to close the hole in the spillway. The NBC affiliate showed dump trucks dropping off piles of rocks - see below -  which were then loaded into the bags with backhoes, while helicopters were deployed to the site with oversized sandbags. The operation to close the gap would begin as soon as it was feasible, the station said.

Officials feared a failure of the emergency spillway could cause huge amounts of water to flow into the Feather River, which runs through downtown Oroville, and other waterways. The result could be flooding and levee failures for miles south of the dam, depending on how much water is released.

The efforts to make repairs to the damaged emergency spillway at the Oroville Dam are a race against time. Forecasters say Monday and Tuesday should be dry. But on Wednesday, more rain is possible. And the wet weather is expected to continue into the weekend. The rain is likely to increase water levels at Lake Oroville. Sunday night, officials were able to send water out of the damaged main spillway, taking pressure off the emergency spillway. Workers plan to make repairs to the emergency spillway beginning Monday.

After five years of drought, Northern California has experienced one of the wettest winters on record.

So to limit the potential damage and flooding, the primary plan of action currently in place is to plug a hole in the emergency spillway, including using helicopters dropping bags of rock into the crevasse to prevent any further erosion. Here's the loud, chaotic scene as the choppers prepare for the rock drop via @judywbrandt on Twitter.

Meanwhile, as the LA Times also adds, the California National Guard is on standby and ready to assist with the Oroville Dam emergency, Adjutant General David Baldwin said during Sunday night's press conference. The California National Guard put out an alert to all 23,000 of its soldiers and airmen telling them to be “ready to go if needed,” Baldwin said. The last time officials sent out such a broad notification was during the 1992 riots in Los Angeles, he said. The California National Guard would deploy eight helicopters to assist with spillway reconstruction; military police would also be deployed to Yuba County, Baldwin said.

* * *

Finally, as noted above, the reason for the scramble to fix the dam is because a new storm system is forecast for later this week put water officials on a race against time. Bill Croyle, the acting director of the state Department of Water Resources, said they planned to continue discharging flows at a rate of 100,000 cubic feet per second, with the hope of lowering the reservoir level by 50 feet.

The biggest concern was that a hillside that keeps water in Lake Oroville — California’s second largest reservoir — would suddenly crumble Sunday afternoon, threatening the lives of thousands of people by flooding communities downstream. With Lake Oroville filled to the brim, such a collapse could have caused a “30-foot wall of water coming out of the lake,” Cal-Fire incident commander Kevin Lawson said at a Sunday night press conference. Luckily, so far this scenario has not played out.

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IridiumRebel's picture

Try a Japanese Ice Wall!
Liberal tears?
What about more socialism and taxes?

IridiumRebel's picture

I'll call the union boss to rally the troops.

Looney's picture


Let’s plug the dam with the Liberals, starting with Chuck and Nancy.  ;-)


Ghost of Porky's picture

Airdrop Melissa McCarthy into the crack. It's for the environment.

CheapBastard's picture

Acute case of Karma hitting Californians in the face.

Brown asked trump for assitance and trump should respond asking Jerry for an update on his secession goal as well as copies of all the proposals before cali legistalture so he can exmine where they stand. Trump would not want to interfere with their "Doo Process" and make the Libtards angry, would he.


then tell him he'll send a gubmint team of AA engineers to investigate the problem.

and so on...

...could take weeks to dissect/identify the problem and start a resolution ....very complex given Cali has been looking at it for years and could not (did not) solve the problem.

auricle's picture

Those bags will do nothing. The water will cut right through that bag material. 

BenBache's picture

If the dam breaks, those thousands of rocks they added will go rushing down towards the homes.  They probaly won't do any extra damage, but they will leave a mystery for archaeologists 10,000 years from today.  They will say an ice age did it or some other natural phenomenon and not stupid humans.

knukles's picture

A past instant ice age and melt caused by these big square rocks that ate gas like a pregnant SUV

Stuck on Zero's picture

The media has the whole story wrong as usual. The problem isn't with the overflow spillway. The problem is beside it where there is no concrete cap. You can see water flowing over that area in some shots. A bunch of sandbags ought to do the trick because they'd only be holding back a foot of water or so.

swytt's picture

....and from a few fossilised craniums and knee-caps,an inferior organism existed there.

Troy Ounce's picture


They haven't tried the kitchen sink.


Chris Dakota's picture
Chris Dakota (not verified) auricle Feb 13, 2017 3:46 PM

Jim Stone said:

After opening the main spillway for one day it has eroded back 300 feet!

Says it strongly implies we will lose this dam.

holy shit I knew it

SWRichmond's picture

Yep, men and machines coming to the rescue, doing real work, moving actual materials, taking risks to try to save communities from actual harm.

If Berkeley or Google was downstream, I would be there protesting the workers' efforts to thwart Gaia.

Wanna talk about saving the planet?  California has way too many people, and if depopulated significantly they wouldn't need so much water, now would they?

CheapBastard's picture

I forgot---we'll need to complete the 5- and 10- year environmental impact study first also.

Joe Davola's picture

Interesting the last paragraph on the Oroville dam wikipedia page, is the discussion of how the fish ladder/hatchery stuff concocted to make up for the loss of salmon migration has been too successful and the farmed fish are overwhelming the others.  I can't wait for the numbskulls, who apparently aren't aware of the second law of thermodynamics, try to re-freeze the artic ocean.

I Write Code's picture

Ninety percent of the impact of the drought is on agriculture, so if you emptied all the major cities it would still be a problem.

quadraspleen's picture

I'm not an expert but I think the drought might have ended

Lanka's picture

But-but-but....Climate Change

de3de8's picture

Like I've always said, Mother Nature always gets back to equilibrium.

El Vaquero's picture

It depends on whether it is a decades/centuries long drought or not.  You can have a decades long drought that will have some extraordinarily wet years peppered in with an average drought when taken over all of the years.  


Wait a decade or two and see.  

Stuck on Zero's picture

True. Deserts are not defined so much by the average amount of rain but more by the interval between rains.

CrazyCooter's picture

After looking at this on Google Maps for a couple days ...,-121.8168615,67599m/data=!3m1!1e3

I can't help but think that lake probably provides a big portion of the water sucked up by the surrounding farms (notice the distinct lack of ubanization and the clear patch work of fields). I followed the feather river downstream from the dam and you can see the aquaduct off takes.

If they eventually lose this dam - the economy in Northern CA is going to take it on the chin ...



847328_3527's picture

I hope they don't hurt those endangered smelt when they drop the sandbags and rocks down.

That'd be awful.

Crash Overide's picture

The only thing I care about is if the Oroville dam has transgender bathrooms.

Chris Dakota's picture
Chris Dakota (not verified) CrazyCooter Feb 13, 2017 11:34 AM

Yuba City area is all farming downstream.

DixonUranus's picture

Upon viewing the linked map a reader is able to surmise that the **Gold Country Casino & Hotel** :

- "Machines dont pay out, staff unhelpful"
- "The buffet is reasonably priced and has good fresh food."

Mr. Universe's picture

Well I'm all for deporting/depopulating California. However big Agra uses 80% of California water, people 20%.

Chris Dakota's picture
Chris Dakota (not verified) Mr. Universe Feb 13, 2017 11:34 AM

Problem is they are growing high water crops like rice and almonds and all of it is exported.

Chris Dakota's picture
Chris Dakota (not verified) SWRichmond Feb 13, 2017 11:32 AM

The freeways are packed, takes 2 hrs to go 30 miles and these fuckers want more people here and on welfare.

DixonUranus's picture

If Kek wills it then so it shall be . Praise Kek.

Idaho potato head's picture

Well it was a desert in the central valley and most of SoCal. A good shaker would reverse all that, and then what Jerry?

Seeing Red's picture

Posted details on another thread, but environmental groups tried to have the design flaws fixed in 2005, but they were ignored by the state DWR engineers (who were convinced the design met regulations).

IMHO, environmentalists deserve some of the ridicule they get on ZH.  But not all of it.

Pure Evil's picture

Just raise taxes and prices at the medical marijuana dispesaries to pay for the cost and say "it's for the children".

gatorengineer's picture

Theyd get more sympathy if they said it was for the salmon

Never One Roach's picture

It's the smelt I'm worried about. Last count showed only 43,894,698 of them left in the Oroville area.

(Plus or minus a dozen)

SgtSchultz's picture

Don't they need a few million dollars and also a few years of careful environmental impact studies before they go running around dropping boulders?

Handful of Dust's picture

No. The 9th Circus Court of Entertainment gave them permission.

demi urge's picture

The problem was a seam in the concrete joints... whether it was a little bit of hydro jacking or settling after all the rains they've gotten a small crack quickly becomes a big crack with the flow rates and velocities going down that spillway with the level of the recent rains we've been having.

It was identified in 2013 as a possible issue. It was also dismissed as being so far down the priority list as they focused on other issues that were deemed higher priority.

Of course, everyone was also looking a 1/4 full reservoir thinking, "This spillway might never run again."

CrazyCooter's picture

Actually, if you go look at the lake level history ...

HINT: Hold down <ctl> on the keyboard to select multiple years.

I plotted all of them and it was stunning - (1) this year is a GROSS outlier and (2) the historical wet season hasn't really started yet.

The water level in December was very typical for past years. Between Dec 1 and last week, the lake filled to levels that normally take until JUNE or JULY. Virtually ever year shows significant water gains in the months leading to June/July.

This problem is just getting started - if they can't put something in place in the very near term to arrest the progression of erosion - this thing is slowly going to eat itself, week after week, until it fails.



P.S. Screen shot that chart and save it - I doubt this page stays up long.

demi urge's picture

The historical wet season for Cali is Oct 15 - April 15, though the heaviest and most consistent rains are typically from Jan 1 - April 15, yes.  The levels of the lake also aren't the best indicators, particularly during drought, because they mitigate the releases to keep the dam as full as possible into the summer given their mediterranean climate... they won't be doing that this year, for obvious reasons.

What are the rates of headcut erosion in the spillway? You got those numbers yet? How long until the spillway can eat back up to the head gates at those rates? 

CrazyCooter's picture

Point taken. I shared the data I found - I don't think the data you asked for is available, at least publicly.

However, what I tried to share (i.e. my point), it that there were a few rain events that were responsible for most of the water gain, which are visible in the plots. I expressly pointed out this was clearly an OUTLIER event (based on data going back to 79).

I also expressly pointed out that the lake is full, those events are going to overflow or release - there no third option. They have to release water to get the lake level down - so they have a buffer - the point being is any additional water going into the lake is going over the dam one way or the other.

Perhaps the winter is the rainy season - but they clearly take on water during the coming months. There is a huge snowpack waiting to melt plus any storms (not all the precipitation Cali got was in liquid form).

Got any hydrology data for this reservoir?




Socratic Dog's picture

Wet season?  It's not the wet season you need to worry about, it's the snow melt season.  Spring to summer.

Misean's picture

Wrong. US Feds in 2005 said there were problems.

"Higher priority" Like giving money gov employees? Making suere illegals had med care to spawn? Making sure the leftist insiders who run these scams were greatly enriched? Hammering small businesses with outrageous enviro regs? Letting Moonbeam's sister bail out of her positions in SoCal Gas BEFORE declaring the gas leak a disaster?

And as to higher priority, who made what a priority? Moonbeam spewing leftist nonsense from leftist wacko's at CA universities about 100 year droughts when the mother of all El Nino warm water masses coalesced of the coast?

Yeah whatever asshat, your "analysis" is about as solid as puke.

demi urge's picture

All I can tell you is what happened. You can believe it or not.  I wouldn't really expect to you to because, well I make sense.


No, higher priorty like the sluice gate tendons that were giving them problems on another dam after an earthquake that year.  When I say higher priorities... I mean higher priorities on Oroville dam.  

Engineers made the maintenance priority list.  

This is how things work in the real world.