Patterico's Pontifications


California Spillway Failure Feared in Oroville, Could Cause Massive Flooding

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 7:03 pm

The L.A. Times reports:

Residents of Oroville and nearby towns were ordered to immediately evacuate on Sunday afternoon after a hole was discovered at the emergency spillway for the Oroville Dam.

Officials said late Sunday they will attempt to plug the hole using sandbags and rocks but stressed the situation remains dangerous and urged thousands of residents downstream to evacuate to higher ground.

The National Weather Service said the auxiliary spillway at the Oroville Dam was expected to fail about 5:45 p.m., which could send an “uncontrolled release of flood waters from Lake Oroville.”

Just yesterday the public was told there was no danger. Now there are mandatory evacuations underway, traffic snarls, and a lot of confusion. Some reports state that the dam is danger of failing, while other reports (which appear to be more accurate) say that the emergency spillway is in danger, not the dam itself.

If the dam itself were to break, it would be catastrophic. The Sacramento Bee reports: Marysville, Yuba County evacuated as Oroville spillway collapse feared. Under a section titled Worst Case Scenario the paper says:

There is no map showing exactly what will happen if the emergency spillway collapses tonight. Officials only have a map showing a failure of the dam. That worst case scenario is useful in that it shows where water goes and how fast it gets there.

Water would get to the town of Oroville within an hour.

If Oroville Dam were to suffer a massive breach, water would get to the town of Oroville within an hour, according to GIS maps maintained by CalFire.

Within two hours, the small town of Briggs would be affected. In three hours, Gridley would be hit. Water would reach Live Oak in five hours..

It would take eight to 12 hours for the water to get to Marysville and Yuba City.

If the dam completely failed, flood depths could reach more than 100 feet in Oroville and up to 10 feet in Yuba City.

There’s some dramatic video here, but the statement in the tweet that the dam is expected to fail appears to be wrong:

[Cross-posted at RedState and The Jury Talks Back.]

147 Responses to “California Spillway Failure Feared in Oroville, Could Cause Massive Flooding”

  1. Ding.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  2. i think this “spillway failure” construction is very misleading

    this is a failure of the reservoir

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  3. Why do you say that?

    Patterico (115b1f)

  4. cause once the breach starts breaching

    it just goes

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  5. you can tell by how muddy the water is

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  6. if you could only pick one cd to listen to while you were stuck in your pickemup truck stalled in traffic trying to flee the imminent collapse of the oroville dam, which cd would you pick

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  7. That map is confusing as most McClatchy roducts tend to be.

    narciso (2b845a)

  8. I don’t understand your reason for thinking that the dam won’t fail. The level of the water can only be controlled by dumping water through the power house, and it is blocked with debris. So the water will rise. The massive water fall we saw earlier today breaking free of the spillway was with a 1′ over-topping. There are predictions that additional water is coming, the youtube video mentioned 7′. Any water that rushes over the emergency spillway will cut a deeper or even a new path down to the river, and the material it is eroding is just fill. That whole blob of earth between the spillway and concrete dam is very much at risk.

    And with 700′ of head (over 20 atmospheres) we’re talking about 300 psi of water pressure working on that blob of fill. This will erode that hill very quickly. The estimate of a 100′ wave at Oroville might be considerably under the mark. It will all depend upon how quickly the material is eroded.

    Anyone living within a few miles of the Feather River needs to leave right now. They either need to get to high and solid ground, say 300′ above the river, or 5 or 10 miles away from the river, preferably to a higher elevation. Think about the video we say of the tsunami in Japan. All those people trapped on roads out of the fishing village as the water rose up and up. This could be the same thing, only headed down slope, meaning it won’t slow down as it advances.

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  9. Damn! (LOL)

    Cruz Supporter (102c9a)

  10. Greetings:

    And how many billions did the Califronia voters let Governor (Bullethead) Brown borrow to fix the state’s water system ??? MAybe next year, or once his Bullet Train is up and running.

    11B40 (6abb5c)

  11. I don’t mean to be saying I know that the dam will not break, just that there are some reports saying officials are warning of spillway failure and other reports saying officials are warning of dam failure, and the former reports seem to be the accurate ones. I probably could have phrased it more clearly in the post.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  12. Ac/Dc Highway to Hell answer to #6.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  13. The fella on the local news just said that authorities are saying there is no evidence of any structual problem with the dam itself.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  14. This is a serious situation. Read about the Johnstown Flood. There, a dam failed and a town was washed away with hundreds of lives lost. And, it happened quicker than boiled asparagus.

    ropelight (715336)

  15. Also hearing that the water level is going down, although they are still over normal capacity. Outflow is greater than what is coming in.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  16. The Guess Who, No Sugar Tonight.

    ‘Cause it’s the new Mother Nature taking over
    It’s the new splendid lady come to call
    It’s the new Mother Nature taking over
    She’s gettin’ us all
    She’s gettin’ us all

    nk (dbc370)

  17. I agree that anyone near there needs to get the hell out of there, as authorities have ordered.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  18. yes yes the dam gets more or less more sturdy the more the reservoir fails elsewheres

    the key thing is how muddy the water is

    that’s the erosion of embankment

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  19. Not funny, cs “there is a certain romeime burned while nero played, none of the networks except the weather channel, if this was happening in Malibu or Marin county would they be so cavalier?

    narciso (2b845a)

  20. The ABC News video did not show the erosion occurring on the 700 feet of fill between the top of the dam and the Feather River below. It is that erosion that is the problem. There’s no way to predict how deep the water will cut, nor how much material will be carried away, nor the path it might take. It is out of the spillway and on its own.

    The ABC video is a piece of propaganda. It is designed to keep people calm. If they are on the road and making 5 mph, with a full tank of gas, calm is good. Especially if they can leave their car and walk should need arise. If they are calm and sitting on the back deck looking at the rampaging water in the Feather River, that is not so good. This is what you should expect from politicians who routinely get re-elected by lying to the people. And even in this hour of crisis your slut of a governor is trying to spin it as though “climate change” is the problem, and not the failure of the bureaucracy to maintain this dam.

    This is the video you should watch.
    (From papertiger on the other topic @6:43 pm.)

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  21. narciso, I wasn’t suggesting that the dam breaking is funny, only that the pun ‘damn!’ is funny.

    By the way, where’s Governor Blanco?

    Cruz Supporter (102c9a)

  22. The “dam” and the “spillway” are all integral parts of the “dam”. The pretty concrete structure that houses the power plant relies on the material beneath the spillway to hold back the water, just as it’s concrete does. The material underneath the spillway has been eroded. If the water should find a path from the reservoir to daylight where the fill material used to be, it’s “Katy bar the door!”

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  23. Ok then, we were in a otential rough spot with hurricane Matthew, which misty stayed ashore, When did they discovefvthis crack?

    narciso (2b845a)

  24. in 2013

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  25. err

    2015 i think

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  26. Here’s something. The authorities knew about the hole in the main spillway back in 2013.
    Here’s a picture.

    So Governor Blinkered knew of a problem and had four or five drought years to fix it. Guess it was more important to bother people into getting solar panels than to work on water infrastructure.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  27. narciso, the youtube video that papertiger found and I linked in #20 has a lot of background on the problems with the failed spillway. I recall one photo from 2013 with three pickup trucks parked to the left of the hole that was opening in the spillway. And then there are a bunch of photos documenting its collapse over the last few days. The failure wasn’t small. I’m guessing the hole in the concrete was 10′ deep and 40′ by 50′ a few days ago.

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  28. omg i knew i had read 2013 but that seems so unbelieberable

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  29. I suspected as much, like with the levees on lake pontchartrain, or any other man enabled catastrophes

    narciso (2b845a)

  30. I’m sort of on top of this because I’m sort of in the middle of it.

    Still this information from Patterico is good stuff to know that I wasn’t aware of. The time from high water in Oroville to Marysville being 6 hours, this is invaluable information.

    Unless I drown of course. If that happens I’m going to go back to not trusting content from Patterico.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  31. the key thing is to not drown

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  32. And don’t overlook the consequences of this dam failure (should it occur) to the power system. As I linked on the other topic, Lake Oroville is used as a temporary storage facility to balance out hydro power production. In the night, when the demand for power is low (no AC,) water is pumped from the Sacramento River into Lake Oroville. It is then discharged during the day to provide additional power for all those ACs in the state office buildings. This loss of balancing won’t be critical for until we get higher temperatures, but it might be significant. Of course, all the other hydro dams should be filled to capacity for the summer given all the rain this year, so this might not be important this year.

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  33. Yes this starts looking like Roland emmerich material, seriously.

    narciso (2b845a)

  34. if you could only pick one cd to listen to while you were stuck in your pickemup truck stalled in traffic trying to flee the imminent collapse of the oroville dam, which cd would you pick

    happyfeet (28a91b) — 2/12/2017 @ 7:22 pm


    “Before The Flood” Bob Dylan and the Band live

    Colonel Haiku (2601c0)

  35. The problem is the emergency spillway being undermined, the water guy is saying that due to increased release from the normal spillway (the broken one) that outlet has exceeded intake drastically slowing the overtop flow on the emergency spillway.

    Once that stops the erosion ends, and the danger will abate. THe water guy estimates the water over the top will stop by 9pm. Says they’ll no longer need the emergency spillway, and I’ll be able to sleep in my own bed hopefully.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  36. .It is then discharged during the day to provide additional power for all those ACs in the state office buildings.
    So the state bureaucracy loses electricity for a bit if the dam goes?

    Just proves every black cloud has a silver lining.

    Kishnevi (158466)

  37. Papertiger, stay safe!

    Kishnevi (158466)

  38. if you could only pick one cd to listen to while you were stuck in your pickemup truck stalled in traffic trying to flee the imminent collapse of the oroville dam, which cd would you pick

    I’m guessing The Beach Boys’ “Catch a Wave” would be in poor taste.

    Chuck Bartowski (211c17)

  39. About 150 miles northeast of San Francisco, Lake Oroville is one of California’s largest man-made lakes, and the 770-foot-tall Oroville Dam is the nation’s tallest. The lake is a central piece of California’s government-run water delivery network, supplying water for agriculture in the Central Valley and residents and businesses in Southern California. (ABC)

    elissa (b5c426)

  40. The governor who said last year CA was going into “permanent drought” and ignored cracks in the Oroville Dam spillway since at least 2013 wants to continue spending billion$ on a bullet train to nowhere…

    And the state libs want to secede because they’re so much smarter than the rubes in the heartland.

    Just another example of the leadership that got Trump elected.

    Harkin (f2f14e)

  41. I’m hanging on until 9:00 to see what the news conference has to say.

    There’s a but load of traffic, people heading for the Sierras, and sort of a palpable panic on the street.

    It might be a bad thing, but the panic gene, I just don’t have it. Might be the death of me sometime.

    You know that guy in 2012 the movie, dodging earthquake fissures, racing flood waters and the like.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  42. I’ve been watching this closely since Tuesday when the spillway first started failing. I live nearby but high above in the foothills so no evac for me.

    A few main problems – the main spillway is failing and has caused severe erosion near the lower part.

    Dialing down the main spillway outflow caused the lake to rise high enough to overflow at the designed 1,700′ long emergency spillway.

    Due to either a design flaw or unknown cause, the emergency spillway (according to experts) cannot handle the overflow without failing. They think a min 30′ breach would occur causing catastrophic erosion to the emergency spillway edge which would cause the top 30′ of the lake to exit uncontrolled over this section, causing even more catastrophic failure.

    Also – the massive erosion on the primary spillway now has a gigantic wall of earth above it which to my untrained eye looks in danger of collapsing. This would be on the lower north side of the dam. I was hoping someone at the joint press conference would ask about this and if it posed any danger to dam integrity but no one did.

    Oh – and more rain expected later this week.

    Harkin (f2f14e)

  43. Also – since they cranked the primary spillway back up to 100,000 cfs, the lake is lowering and they hope to have enough time of no emergency spillway overflow to repair a key weakness area with helicopter delivered boulders and concrete.

    One crazy situation.

    Harkin (f2f14e)

  44. 3. Why do you say that?

    It’s like the Maginot Line, it doesn’t really matter if the dam is intact if the water finds another path.

    James B. Shearer (a02d29)

  45. I just realized that the spillway that was damaged was the routine spillway. The amount of water in that spillway can be controlled by the dam operators. The emergency spillway is fed by overtopping the lengthy, rounded concrete bulkhead. The rising water and blockage of the power plant outlet put the operators in a position where they had to release huge amounts of over the routine spillway, the one that hadn’t been maintained, knowing that the water would rip up the broken concrete. So they had to play a little game balancing the destruction of the routine spillway (the long concrete structure running down the hill with a hole in it) with the need to control the overtopping of the emergency spillway. That spillway had nothing more than a parking lot to “control” the erosion of the water as it rushed down the hill. Thus both methods promised to erode the hill. A difficult balancing act to be sure.

    This makes the neglect of the maintenance on the routine spillway really hard to justify. What were they thinking?

    hf’s video at #38 shows people evacuating from as far south as Marysville, the people are taking the warning seriously. And the roads are apparently congested.

    I hope you have a way to check the water level in dam and any emergency announcements, papertiger, over the course of the night … if you’re still at home.

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  46. That’s true – he said reservoir failure, not dam failure.

    The dam could still be standing but the reservoir (or at least a significant portion of it) could find another route downhill.

    Harkin (f2f14e)

  47. The latest news the water has stopped flowing over the emergency spillway. Tippy top full is 901 feet. That’s when the overtopping starts. Lake level is at 900.7 feet.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  48. Bob Stewart – “This makes the neglect of the maintenance on the routine spillway really hard to justify. What were they thinking?”

    They found photos of multiple trucks in 2013 parked over the section in the primary spillway where the failure began but so far officials have been very nebulous over how bad the cracks were or how detailed the inspection was. They did concede that no repairs were deemed necessary.

    As I sit here watching local news they are showing crews preparing huge net containers of boulders for transport up to the rim.

    Harkin (f2f14e)

  49. Between 5:10 and 5:20 of papertiger’s youtube video you can see some photos of the failed spillway from earlier this week. I don’t see any rebar in the concrete debris. I’m not a civil engineer, but it seems foolhardy to build a spillway that would be unable to resist undermining by ground water. The removal of even small amounts of material would leave segments of the concrete spanning a gap. The tensile strength of concrete is negligible, and this is the property that is needed span gaps. Should the concrete crack and allow more water into the void, the unsupported area could only grow as the water erodes more and more fill from beneath the structure. The dam was built in 1957, so Mr. Murphy has had 60 years to find such failure points, and he is guaranteed to make the worst of them.

    And just as a question, the dam is said to be “earthen”. I’ve been assuming that the large, curved structure, which is called the “dam” is concrete, but that may not be the case.

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  50. Bobstewart – the “where’s the rebar” controversy was addressed last week

    There is rebar in the primary spillway.

    Look at newer posts at that site for good detail and info from last week.

    Harkin (f2f14e)

  51. Hope everyone in the path of moonbeams failure is ok.
    Massachusetts has wooden dams that mittens failed to secure and now we have another idiot republican govna, that won’t fix a dam thing.

    mg (31009b)

  52. What none of this coverage is addressing is that Lake Oroville is usually only at 80% of its seasonal volume by this date, with max volume being reached around June 1st. Yet it’s already at 101% of capacity. Furthermore, the volume has increased very sharply in just the past few months, which is quite different from historical patterns. And the snowpack in the mountains above Lake Oroville are currently at about 150% of normal, with rain coming in on Wednesday and lasting for several days.

    Even without a spillway ‘failure’, this could get pretty ugly.

    bfwebster (c3c3ef)

  53. Thanks Harkin. You’ve contributed a lot to this conversation. Prior to tonight, the videos I’d seen were strangely myopic. The 160,000 people stuck in the traffic jam in Marysville are experiencing what happens when your government is irresponsible. I hope this experience is all that happens to them and they can return to their homes soon. But I fear this problem will fester as long as we have this moisture streaming into the west coast.

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  54. So sad they couldn’t guide that water through the grammys.

    mg (31009b)

  55. Are these republican counties? Thats how moonbeam rolls.

    mg (31009b)

  56. Priceless – Moonbeam wants President Trump to help. Since when is President in Ca? Oh, they need money. gfy Ca.

    mg (31009b)

  57. The primary spillway has been damaged all week; a giant sinkhole (no, really, the thing is 40 feet deep) opened up on Tuesday and has been getting worse all week. Right now water coming out the primary sinkhole hits the hole and then half of it continues down the spillway while the other half flows *around* the spillway on the side of the hill closer to the dam.

    The emergency spillway (which is automatically activated once water hits a certain level in the dam) started outflows up yesterday and has eroded all the way back up to the spillway. What i’m seeing is that DWR is concerned that continued use of the secondary spillway risks undermining *the spillway*, which could drop thirty feet of the lake.

    DWR says the dam itself is fine. I’m *skeptical* but guardedly accept their estimates; my knowledge of hydrology is better than average for a layperson but still isn’t expert enough to second-guess them on this.

    aphrael (3f0569)

  58. Apparently in 2005, the Sierra Club petitioned FERC to require, as part of the dam’s relicensing, that the emergency spillway be encased in concrete. DWR said it wasn’t necessary, and FERC agreed.

    aphrael (3f0569)

  59. All the money moonbeam wastes on illegals, a dam of bricks of gold would have been possible.

    mg (31009b)

  60. I am uncertain as to why the 9th Circuit, as they are Gods (unto themselves at least), have not issued a stay in the melt of the snowpack and a TRO on any new precip.

    In total seriousness, I hope for the best outcome for those who may be in harm’s way. Also, many thanks to the several posters who have shared uncommon expertise and wisdom about the situation.

    Ed from SFV (3400a5)

  61. @6 happyfeet

    Led Zepplin IV

    Pinandpuller (824646)

  62. This is God’s punishment for not letting SoCal have any of that water.

    Kevin M (25bbee)

  63. When was the last time a water storage feature was built in California? Would more reservoirs be able to alleviate both a drought and an “way too much water” situation?

    mer (4a50ec)

  64. Lake level is below 900 feet as of Midnight local time.

    That shows the lake level on an hour by hour basis.

    Currently 899.44

    Anything below 900 is great. The sheriff said they plan to draw it down 50 feet, spillway be damned. Outflow is twice, over twice, the inflow.

    Im staying home tonight gentlemen.

    I thnk we’re out of the woods.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  65. 54-Bob Stewart-

    My pleasure. I will probably head back over to WUWT for most of my commenting on this as they are more science-specific.

    This study in fluid dynamics would be enjoyably fascinating if hundreds of thousands of people weren’t effected.

    Harkin (f2f14e)

  66. “This makes the neglect of the maintenance on the routine spillway really hard to justify. What were they thinking?”

    We can use the money to buy votes. Then we win.

    Lucas Cross (57ef7b)

  67. Priceless – Moonbeam wants President Trump to help. Since when is President in Ca? Oh, they need money. gfy Ca.

    It’s not Trump’s money.

    Dave (711345)

  68. Not sure what the underlying ground is made of, but if the sinkhole was caused by water seeping in underground and eroding soluble subsurface strata, they better hope for an extended break in the rains before the snow melt comes in order to get the lake low enough to handle the spring melt, because it’s going to take a while to grout that sinkhole to fix the problem.

    John (5a97df)

  69. John Denver – “Thank God I’m a Country Boy”

    mg (31009b)

  70. “How did leftist California fail?” Bill asked.

    “Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”

    With thanks to Ernest Hemingway, 1926, “The Sun Also Rises”.

    Fred Z (05d938)

  71. 52, lead lining of Trump Ascendancy is you’re stuck with Wunda Boy Bakuh for 2 extra years than expected.

    urbanleftbehind (7af177)

  72. No this is like the republic of San marco, where you wear underwear underwearvon the outside

    narciso (a16c08)


    “In December, Gov. Jerry Brown asserted California’s independence and blasted President Donald Trump for dismissing climate change.

    On Friday, the governor turned to his potential nemesis for help — specifically, asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to declare a major disaster after the state was hammered by storms, floods and mudslides…..

    …..Brown attacked Trump’s energy and environmental policies at a forum for scientists in December. The governor vowed to protect climate research and policies aimed at curbing global warming. “We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the lawyers and we’re ready to fight,” Brown told the audience.”

    We’ve also got a governor who insists we are in permanent drought and has sunk billion$ into a bullet train to nowhere.

    Harkin (f2f14e)

  74. Sorry about the duplicate, the gop wave created twice outside the people’s republic

    narciso (a16c08)

  75. If Governor Moonbeam truly believes in ACG, then he and the Democrat legislature ought to have foreseen this potential dam-break.
    Instead of admitting they failed to plan ahead, they’re doing what any leftist fool can do … blame it on President Mr Donald.

    Where’s Governor Blanco?

    Cruz Supporter (102c9a)

  76. Take your Mr. Donald and shove him where the sun don’t shine. It’s got nothing to do with him, either way.

    When are those poor people going to be able to go back to their homes? Will they have this thing hanging over their heads for the rest of the year as the snows melt and more rains come? Harkin? papertiger?

    nk (dbc370)

  77. Aphrael, @58, the hole in the long concrete spillway (as opposed to the emergency spillway) appears to be scoured by the high speed water that they had to discharge to keep the dam level beneath the emergency spillway. It may look like a “sink hole”, and some have speculated that a pipe may have burst beneath the spillway, but the huge fountain of water that appears on some of the recent videos is just the high speed water from the concrete spill way being redirected as it tumbles into the hole. That water just keeps scouring the concrete, and the hole will get bigger and bigger as they discharge additional water down the spillway. If that water was emerging from beneath the spillway, the whole hill would be washed away in a very short time. Think Niagara Falls.

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  78. Yes they will because unless it happens in San Francisco or lis Angeles it won’t matter and even if it did they would find a reason to squirrel!

    narciso (8d0fef)

  79. 160,000 people in the evacuation zone. Many did not not leave but many did. I just wonder what all the evacuees are doing today and when it will be considered safe for them to return home. From afar it sounds like this evacuation could be a fire drill for others still to come during the rainy season and the mountain snow melt if adequate and lasting repairs cannot be made to secure the sinkhole and breaches. And IF the repairs and maintenance are able to be made in a few days on a highly non-optimal, stressful, emergency basis then it rings even more hollow that these repairs were not made during non- emergency dry times.

    The crews working to shore up Lake Oroville’s emergency spillway have three days of mostly sunny weather before the next warm, wet storm moves inland.

    River levels will rise and continue to pose problems late this week and early next week, according to the National Weather Service.

    Monday through Wednesday will be mostly rain-free. Valley temperatures will warm into the 60s today and visibility will be clear for helicopters being used in the buttressing of Oroville’s emergency spillway.

    However, on Wednesday night rain is forecast to return to Oroville and continue to fall through Thursday. The Sacramento Valley may see a half to an inch of rain, while the foothills are predicted to receive 2-to-4 inches.

    Snow levels will hover around the 6,500-feet elevation level Thursday.

    Rain returns this weekend, but precipitation amounts can not be determined yet. The good news is that more of what will fall from the sky in the mountains will be in the form of snow.

    elissa (7b8411)

  80. that’s a ton of rain when it falls in a watershed that drains into your reservoir

    i’d make sure your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  81. The foothills of the High Sierras were mined in the latter part of the 19th Century by using high pressure jets of water to wash the material down to the river bed where it could be processed using pacer mining technology, which is basically open pit mining. These operations used huge, high powered monitors and they caused enormous environmental damage. Now they are hoping they can keep the dam low enough that those same foothills won’t be washed into the stream bed by overtopping the emergency “spillway”.

    Here in Seattle we had a similar scare about ten years ago when an earthen dam was in danger of failing and flooding the valley in which Auburn and Kent are located. They had to manage the water very carefully, discharging as much as possible in order to keep the level low. I wonder if there will be some second thoughts on the discharge policies for Lake Oroville. Even with very heavy rain, if they dump enough water ahead of time, the dam level can be kept low. By the time they realized that they needed to discharge a lot of water, the outflow through the power plant was obstructed by debris, and they had no option but to use the damaged concrete spillway. Hindsight is 20-20, but knowing that the spillway was compromised should have tempered there operations.

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  82. If we see a repeat of what happened in January of ’97 – an unseasonable hot spell – we’ll have a disaster in NorCal.

    Colonel Haiku (35e836)

  83. It appeared to me at time, circa 1997, that Enron made a lot of money exploiting the management policies of the hydro dam operators, helped with a bit of extra-legal market intervention in natural gas.

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  84. Driving along I-5 in early ’97 (which runs along the west side of the valley), you’d see water as far as the eye could see to the east.

    Colonel Haiku (35e836)

  85. Editorial ChicoER

    The DWR can argue all day that this was an unforeseen and unpreventable act of nature, but that has to be part of the lesson. When you have a spillway (and a dam) that’s a half-century old, you’d better pay attention to the maintenance.

    As for the escape hatch called an emergency spillway, fishing and environmental groups raised concerns about the inadequacy of the emergency spillway during the federal relicensing process that has dragged on for 15 years. The Yuba County Water Agency said if the emergency spillway was used, there would be damage to “50 to 70 acres” of hillside, and “the amount of soil, rock and debris that would fall into the Feather River could be very large, depending on the depth of erosion.” It noted the potential damage downstream to the Thermalito Diversion Dam, powerplant, fish barrier dam near the hatchery and highway bridges.

    It also noted, “If there is river channel blockage below the spillway, there could be impacts on operation of Hyatt Powerplant.”

    That was written in 2002. And that’s exactly what is happening now.

    elissa (7b8411)

  86. They are currently attempting to shore up the eroded emergency spillway and the enormous hole in the main spillway with compact car size bags of rocks. Evacuation orders will stay in place until they feel the dam is safe. From what I understand the emergency spillway was designed to handle a far greater amount of overflow then what it was. The problem was it has zero armor protection at the base, which eroded significantly enough to jeopardize its structural stability. So they are and will be playing a balancing act of where can failures occur with the least effect.

    More rain is coming towards the end of this week possibly 2in of rain for So Cal, not sure what Nor Cal is getting or it would be snow instead of rain.

    Turns out back in 2005 some groups wanted the emergency spillway better protected from erosion.

    MSL (a8c328)

  87. 77- nk- “When are those poor people going to be able to go back to their homes? Will they have this thing hanging over their heads for the rest of the year as the snows melt and more rains come? Harkin? papertiger?”

    Trying to answer that right now, before inspections of BOTH spillways and the next storm coming…….would almost be as foolish as a Governor declaring we were in a permanent drought situation, which could make other foolish people believe emergency spillways were no longer needed.

    And they call Trump incompetent and insane……

    Harkin (311cb7)

  88. What astonishes me is we do far greater erosion control on relatively small 24” storm drains that outlet into the local Arroyo.
    I don’t think it takes a brilliant civil engineer to understand the effects of erosion on the base of structures. I also don’t understand how they could determine that suffering certain failures with regard to the emergency spillway are acceptable.

    MSL (a8c328)

  89. I just saw the live video of the situation on the ground today, that erosion under the emergency spillway is incredible.

    The sheriff made the right call last night evacuating the city. It’s a football field size gash right up to the face of the weir about fifty feet deep.
    I can’t find a static picture on any of the news services yet, but it’s nothing short of awe inspiring.

    When the crew of Apollo 13 first saw the whole side of the service module blown off is the only thing that compares.

    That being said there are no boils or under cutting of the dam into the lake. The weir is sound.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  90. Some years ago when “Moonbeams” Dad was governor there was a long term plan for water policy and required infrastructure. Californians decided they liked letting stuff go to hell and partying with the money they “saved” When warned they counted on the Feds to bail them out. Good plan if it works.

    Cross Lucas (57ef7b)

  91. Another thing – the news services putting yesterday’s feed of water pouring over the weir for the sensationalism – those dirty rottin [edited] can kiss my hairy [edited]. God [Edited] worthless sons of [edited] air headed bags of [edited].

    I’d love to be in the room with them. Give em a good kick in [edited].

    papertiger (c8116c)

  92. The apartment building is empty. I’m the only one who stayed.

    Can’t imagine the situation of my neighbors. Most were heading toward Grass Valley. There’s not that much to do in Grass Valley.

    Bet they’re getting antsy.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  93. When are the looters coming in, do you reckon?

    I’m not joking. When the tornadoes hit Oklahoma, two-legged animals were coming in from as far as New Jersey to loot.

    nk (dbc370)

  94. Roy Spencer comes through. Photo of the base of the weir from 25 minutes ago.

    Those little yellow dots are people. TH e inspection crew dressed in rain gear.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  95. I’ll keep an eye on the place. At least this building, if I see anybody pulling any guff.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  96. There had already been reports of looting in Oroville proper, quickly denied by local law enforcement.

    urbanleftbehind (5eecdb)

  97. Somebody call in Gage and DeSoto!

    urbanleftbehind (5eecdb)

  98. Dr. Roy has a pretty good overview of the situation on the ground at Oroville dam.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  99. The LA Times has an excellent photo spread:

    Pictures get very interesting after #20

    Kevin M (25bbee)

  100. This is scary and horrible but also fascinating to follow. I always knew Cali got much of its drinking and agricultural water from the High Sierras and reservoirs, and electricity from hydro-electric installations, but never stopped to consider all the aspects and piece parts and ramifications. Thank you to all who are helping explain this phenomenon to us flatlanders.

    elissa (95d18b)

  101. When was the last time a water storage feature was built in California?

    There is always a threatened tortoise or weed. Environmentalists, who view lack of water as a good thing (throttling any growth), make damn sure something is found to nix any new reservoir. They also have been CLOSING reservoirs due to a buildup of “toxic substances” past some incredibly low threshhold.

    Kevin M (25bbee)

  102. A side note:

    My mother passed this morning. She was 97.

    Kevin M (25bbee)

  103. May she rest in peace, Kevin. My sincerest condolences.

    urbanleftbehind (5eecdb)

  104. elissa, a piece of history that you might find interesting is the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project, which began in 1911. An engineer named Eastwood saw the power potential of the High Sierras and by 1905 he’d arranged financing with Huntington and purchased the water rights. Eastwood was driven out of the company in 1910 or so, but they used his designs for the initial dam and tunnel building. I believe Thomas Edison was also involved, but I can’t recall the details. The project was east of Fresno, and on the western slope of the Sierras north of Mt. Whitney. It was a difficult job, but in the end, Southern California got lots of cheap and reliable electricity. Combined with similar projects to bring water to So. Cal., this made it a perfect place for the development of the aircraft industry as WWII approached.

    The grand children of these far-sighted pioneers have been heck-bent on squandering everything their predecessors created, with remarkable success.

    The Cadillac Desert is a readable source for the water issues.

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  105. Prayers you Kevin, so harry to hear that.

    narciso (d1f714)

  106. #103 I’m sorry to hear that, Kevin.

    Cruz Supporter (102c9a)

  107. papertiger–I want to check on your thoughts about the evac numbers. Some places you read or hear at least 188,000 “urged” to evacuate, in other places you read or hear 160,000 in evacuation “zone” But we know because of you that many others like you may have chosen to stay in place. I haven’t seen any estimates of the number of people who actually have bugged out and gone to higher ground. Any guesses or have you seen compiled numbers? That’s a huge number under the order any way you slice it– yet it seems almost impossible to contemplate that many folks all on the move and to where.

    elissa (95d18b)

  108. Sorry to hear that Kevin. 97 years is an impressive accomplishment all by itself.

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  109. You have my sympathy as well, Kevin.

    elissa (95d18b)

  110. Here’s a close up of the weir adjacent to the main spillway. [jpg]

    Pretty deep hole there. I hope that’s just standing water. None of he inspectors are tearing their hair, so.

    See that booger of concrete? They dumped that there Friday. That’s some good concrete. I want their number for if I ever need a carport poured in a monsoon.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  111. Oh, Kevin M, I’m so sorry to hear about your mother. My deepest sympathies on your loss. I’ll quick toss up a couple of prayers for you. {{hug}}

    Doo-Dah, Doo-Dah (56c667)

  112. One family has returned to the complex, besides them it’s pretty lonely.

    I saw two school buses drive past this morning. They were both empty.

    Last night the line of cars on their way out of town was as far as I could see in all directions.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  113. It’s a tough one. losing mom.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  114. Kevin,

    My condolences on your mother’s passing.

    Rick Ballard (5e8a41)

  115. My condolences, Kevin.

    nk (dbc370)

  116. Sorry to hear that, Kevin. My condolences, thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Hang in there.

    Colonel Haiku (25433a)

  117. Mr. M sorry for your loss this morning I’m glad you had so much time with her that’s very special

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  118. Evac wasn’t mandatory here, probably due to the 8 hour warning we would have if the dam failed (per Patterico.)

    I don’t think the local news emphasized the river lag time, if they mentioned it at all.

    Channel 40 in Sac [edits] the big [edit] , just peddling sensationalized crap. Trying their best to drum up a panic.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  119. Kevin, at 103:

    I am sorry to hear it. My condolences on your loss.

    aphrael (e0cdc9)

  120. Its a bit of mystery to me what they are predicting will “fail” — the dam proper itself, which holds back Lake Oroville — which would be a huge catastrophe, or the emergency spill way which runs between the boat ramp and the spill way.

    The water overtopping the emergency spillway iscertainly eroding the hillside below it, upon which the emergency spillway rests, so if the emergency spillway gives way that wouldn’t be a big surprise. I guess the water level of the lake is now down are enough that its no longer overtopping it, and they can get started on shoring it up.

    The second problem is that huge sinkhold in the regular spillway, which caused massive amounts of water to run out of the spillway to the east, and started to erode the hillside which anchors the western side of the dam proper. I haven’t seen any real reporting on how that erosion is being judged with regard to the integrity of the dam proper itself. Seems like a lot more of that hill would need to erode before it would threaten to undermine the concrete dam.

    And I’m not sure how that erosion to the east will get worse as a path for the water down the spillway, even to the extent that it goes off to the east, is pretty well established now.

    shipwreckedcrew (56b591)

  121. I’m sorry for your loss, Kevin M. Hard to imagine what that must be like.

    Leviticus (efada1)

  122. 188,000 Evacuated from Northern California Lakeside, as Dam Threatens to Break

    “The news conspires to aid Trump; this is obviously part of infrastructure.

    I wonder how many plans to reinforce this damn (and the spillway threatening to fail) have been nixed by California due to concerns about inconveniencing the snail darter.

    Or how much money necessary for maintaining California’s infrastructure has been spirited away into high speed rail boondoggles and million dollar retirements for city bureaucrats.”

    Colonel Haiku (25433a)

  123. There was talk of a boil yesterday. No mention of it now.

    No mention of it after the cars started moving.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  124. I’m sorry for your loss, Kevin M. Hard to imagine what that must be like.

    Well, it’s actually better than having a 770 ft dam over your head and people saying it might not hold.

    Kevin M (25bbee)

  125. There was talk of a boil yesterday

    If only they had a nuclear plant handy.

    Kevin M (25bbee)

  126. as a path for the water … to the east, is pretty well established now.

    SWC, I wouldn’t want to bet on the longevity of that “path”. The water pouring into the gap in the spillway concrete will dig a very deep hole given time, and then the soil on the uphill side will collapse, undermining the next section of the spillway which will collapse, thus enlarging the hole in the up-hill direction. And those blocks of concrete that tumble down the hill will do a lot of digging on their own. And who knows what material is going to be uncovered. It appears that some large granite intrusions may have directed the water eastward, for example. The problem is the 770 foot height of hill upon which the emergency spillway rests. That’s a lot of potential energy. Water tumbling down that hillside will find all sorts of paths that really can’t be predicted, as you can see in the hole dug in the photo that papertiger linked @111. The end point would be a water fall that would eat back into the reservoir until the water level fell below the lip.

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  127. Ropelight mentioned the Johnstown flood earlier in the thread. There’s an example of such a dam collapse in the Los Angeles area in 1928.

    JoeH (f94276)

  128. This link is taken from and is a briefing by the engineers who operate the dam earlier in the week. It is well worth watching, if only to appreciate how unexpected this weekend’s problems were. They thought they’d fixed the spillway and were surprised by the failure they experienced. They were confident that they could operate the spillway even with the knowledge that they were destroying it. They believed that the undermining would only continue up hill so far, and not far enough to threaten the dam. Also, they did mention that the dam is earthen, and it is critical that the reservoir never overtop the structure as water pouring down the backside would erode the material and destroy the dam. Hence the 1700 foot emergency spillway. At the point of this briefing the engineers were quite confident that 20,000 cfs could pour down the hill after overtopping the emergency spillway. They had removed the trees from the hillside anticipating the need for such a discharge. They didn’t want the floating debris from the hillside erosion to cause additional problems downstream. And finally, at the time of the briefing, the material that had accumulated at the base of the long concrete spillway had created a blockage that was already affecting the operation of the powerhouse at the base of the dam.

    BobStewartatHome (c24491)

  129. This is the kind of news reporting I am questioning. Article headline says “200,000 were evacuated.”
    Body of article says “At least 188,000 residents were ordered to evacuate”.
    This does not sound like the same thing to me.

    On Sunday, the mandatory evacuation order below Oroville Dam triggered a chaotic exodus, filling highways as evacuees headed north and west toward higher ground. An emergency shelter at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds here, 24 miles north, filled within hours. Several other shelters were established.

    200,000 people is the size of a small city. I suppose some folks have family elsewhere and some were able to get a motel room. But the rest are at the Fairgrounds and “several other shelters? Possibly at a military base? Have this many really evacuated out of the area?

    I have so little confidence in the media to get things right, anymore. I just seek clarity.

    elissa (95d18b)

  130. dams have one job

    happyfeet (28a91b)

  131. Well, it’s actually better than having a 770 ft dam over your head and people saying it might not hold.

    But we get to puff out our chest, and later on wear a commemorative tee shirt.

    “I survived the Oroville spillway.”

    There’s no comparison. Never get over Mom dying

    papertiger (c8116c)

  132. One of the civil engineers in my office today did some rough calculations figuring an output of 100,000 cfs coming from the main spillway should lower the lake 50 feet in 3 days, I think she said the amount would be around 1.2 million acre feet. I imagine that will give them room for the next rains coming later this week and perhaps some time to get a tight band aide on the problems.

    Shipwreckedcrew @ 121
    The failure they predicted was 30 feet of the top of the emergency spillway coming down, which would flood the communities below. I don’t believe the dam itself appears to be in any danger.

    MSL (a8c328)

  133. Kevin,

    Sorry for you and your family’s loss. May she rest peacefully.

    NJRob (96f698)

  134. Kevin,

    Like others here, I’m truly sorry. Best wishes to your family.

    Dustin (ba94b2)

  135. Nice video of Gavin being interviewed on scene. He says it’s a wake up call, easy to point fingers, Monday Morning quarterbacking —–and Boooosh!

    elissa (95d18b)

  136. This is the kind of news reporting I am questioning. Article headline says “200,000 were evacuated.”

    It’s worse than you think.

    Do you know how long it TAKES to evacuate 200,000 people?

    And the smell!

    Kevin M (25bbee)

  137. Love it Kevin–“God still resides in the details.”

    elissa (95d18b)

  138. Condolences, Kevin M. 97 is a good long run, but the end is never easy when it comes. May she rest in peace.

    Patterico (115b1f)

  139. It was definitely her time.

    Thank you all. It’s nice to rknow that for all our squabbles, there really is a community here.

    Kevin M (25bbee)

  140. @103/140. Kevin….

    Sincerely sorry to read of your Mom’s passing. 97. A grand run and she experienced so very much change over a century– but her greatest legacy– is you.

    Mom’s bring you up, packed your lunches then packed you off to school; were there to ease life’s brusings and to cheer your successes; made you eat your vegetables and comb your hair.

    Mom’s are everything to you– from before the beginning– and after the end. Remember only the good.

    DCSCA (797bc0)

  141. Kevin, my condolences. I could say more, but it would just be a remix of what others already said.

    Kishnevi (0cb353)

  142. Something sinister has inflated the numbers of refugees.

    The police have one way roadblocks set up at key points of the highways.
    Once you drive a certain distance from Yuba/Sutter counties they won’t let you back.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  143. Sorry, Kevin M. Hope you can celebrate her life.

    mg (31009b)

  144. 136- elissa
    That man is creepy.

    mg (31009b)

  145. Might as well put this in it’s right spot.

    Oroville Dam evacuees told they can return home

    Skipping the video, the relevant bits;

    With the crisis at the Oroville Dam stabilized for now, authorities announced Tuesday that the 188,000 people evacuated Sunday will be allowed to return to their homes but should prepare to move again if a new emergency arises.

    The announcement by Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea, who ordered the mass exodus Sunday afternoon amid fears that the dam’s emergency spillway might collapse, came in a 1:40 p.m. press briefing in Oroville.

    “The risks that we faced have significantly been reduced…,” Honea said. “We have concluded that it is safe to reduce the immediate evacuation order to an evacuation warning.”

    People are trickling back at a civilized pace. Nothing like the mad gush of traffic on the way out.

    Main difference I’ve noticed, a lot more people in the building have cats than I was previously aware of. When everyone had left, their cats took up station in the upstairs windows. Watching for their overdue owners return, I imagine.

    They’re not looking at the only human left anymore. Which is nice, actually.

    Here’s video of the sheriff giving the all clear. [YouTube]

    Both he and the water guy Look to me as if they just got back from a marathon [edit] chewing session. Look a little squidgy around the edges. Perhaps Gavin and the Gov went in to throw around their weight.

    Totally undeserved if it happened that way. I think the Dwr and Butte county sheriff did a great job given the situation. They worked the problem and got us through.

    papertiger (c8116c)

  146. a lot more people in the building have cats than I was previously aware of

    Rabbit stew recipe.

    nk (dbc370)

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