A race against Mother Nature as officials send water cascading out of Lake Oroville
– LA Times
“With more storms expected to slam Northern California later this week, officials worked frantically Monday to drain water from brimming Lake Oroville in hopes of heading off a potentially catastrophic flood.
The operators at America’s tallest dam found themselves in a precarious position Monday, with both of the spillways used to release water compromised and the reservoir still filled almost to capacity after a winter of record rain and snow. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of evacuated residents downstream of the dam still have no clear word when they can return home.
Officials sent millions of gallons of water per minute down the massive reservoir’s main spillway. Engineers said that despite a huge gash that opened in the concrete channel a week ago, it was their best option for lowering the dangerously high lake level.
They hoped this would avert further use of the emergency spillway, where damage was discovered Sunday afternoon.
“It was the lesser of two evils,” state Department of Water Resources spokesman Eric See said Monday. “We didn’t want to have more damage, but we needed to evacuate water.”
The emergency spillway suffered severe erosion the day after water cascaded down the unpaved hillside for the first time since the dam opened in 1968.
The damage occurred even though the spillway was designed to handle much more water than the amount that overflowed. Some questioned why officials didn’t heed suggestions more than a decade ago to fortify the emergency spillway.
When it appeared the erosion could quickly worsen Sunday afternoon and potentially undermine the spillway’s concrete lip — a scenario that could unleash a massive wall of water — officials ordered more than 100,000 people to evacuate the low-lying areas along the Feather River.
Racing against Mother Nature, water resources officials Monday sent water surging down the concrete main spillway — a move that lowered the lake level by several feet but threatened to widen the gash. Erosion on the main spillway so far was manageable, See said.
“I’ve been doing these flood battles since 1978,” said state Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber). “This is the one with the greatest potential for damage of all the ones I’ve dealt with.”
Both spillways are separate from the Oroville Dam itself, which officials say is not in danger of collapsing.
Officials said they want to lower the lake 50 feet by Wednesday to avoid another overflow on the damaged emergency spillway. If the head of the spillway crumbles, a 30-foot wall of water could go crashing down the hillside into the Feather River and toward Oroville, Marysville and Yuba City.
“Obviously any rain this week is not helpful at all,” said Tom Dang, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento.
On Monday, geysers of water shot from the placid lake and down the concrete spillway, like a water slide the width of a freeway.
Helicopters flew overhead and dump trucks shuttled across the top of Oroville Dam, carrying loads of rock to fill the eroded section. Without reinforcements, water could creep beneath the lip, causing it to crumble and allowing water to gush over the side.
In a letter Monday, Gov. Jerry Brown asked the Trump administration for a federal disaster declaration, saying the problems were likely to be more than local and state officials can handle.
Brown told reporters that he spoke to a member of the president’s Cabinet on Monday, but declined to say which one. “My office has been in touch with the White House,” Brown said. “I think that will be sufficient.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, meanwhile, sent an eight-person team to the area to help California officials prepare for potential flooding.
“We are trying to plan for the worst-case scenario,” said Ahsha Tribble, acting regional administrator for FEMA’s Region 9, which includes California. “It’s not a wait-and-see game.”
……Continue reading more @ LA Times
Evacuees stranded with no end in sight to Lake Oroville crisis
– SF Gate
OROVILLE, Butte County — The crisis at Lake Oroville may grind on for weeks or longer — leaving the nearly 200,000 people ordered to evacuate on Sunday in nail-biting limbo as crews work to flush water out of the reservoir and shore up a badly eroded emergency spillway, officials said Monday.
State water officials have been purging nearly 100,000 cubic feet of water per second out of the reservoir’s damaged but functioning primary spillway, an effort that brought the level down below the lip of the emergency spillway Sunday night, averting catastrophe.
But they are just beginning to assess the scope of the weekend damage, a first step in developing a plan to secure the reservoir and allow residents to return to their homes.
More rain is forecast to soak Lake Oroville and the surrounding mountains beginning Wednesday night, increasing the urgency of the work being done at the reservoir.
Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday evening that there might be an indication Tuesday on when evacuees can return to their towns, but added that caution was the watchword. “Better safe than sorry,” he said.
“My message is that we’re doing everything we can to get this dam in shape so they can return and live safely,” said the governor, who declared a state of emergency Sunday to mobilize disaster resources.
Crews noticed Sunday that the hillside under the emergency spillway — also called the auxiliary spillway — had begun rapidly deteriorating, just one day after water started cascading over its ledge for the first time since the Oroville Dam was put into operation in 1968.
That deep erosion scar carved its way back to the foot of the spillway’s apron, a concrete lip perched at the top of the hill, threatening the integrity of the barrier.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea ordered an estimated 188,000 residents downstream along the Feather River to evacuate around 4:30 p.m. Sunday, when the possible breach in the spillway was detected. There was no plan for that evacuation order to be lifted, but Honea said officials were working on a “repopulation plan” for the residents.
“When it’s safe, based upon the evaluation by the Department of Water Resources and the state and federal partners, then we’ll be in a better position to decide when to lift that evacuation,” he said.
The Department of Water Resources began dropping large bags of rocks Monday afternoon via helicopters onto the eroded emergency spillway to divert water coming down the earthen hillside during future heavy rains and snowmelt. State officials did not give a timeline on how long it would take to shore up the scarred hillside.
Evacuees, meanwhile, anxiously cooled their heels in evacuation centers scattered throughout the area, without any sense of when they could return home.
Jaswinder Phagura, admitted she was “scared” as she stayed at the Sikh Temple emergency shelter in West Sacramento with family.
“How long will we be here?” said the 48-year-old Live Oak resident, who fled to the shelter with her 4-year-old daughter, sister-in-law and brother-in-law. “I hope when we go back that everything is OK there — pictures, our kids’ stuff.
“We just grabbed some stuff. It’s scary,” she said.
At the Cal Expo fairground in Sacramento, where families poured in throughout the evening, Treena Manion pointed out that many, like her, were losing income for every day they weren’t able to go to work back home — and that could quickly become a hardship. Still, she could understand the caution.
“Our lives are more important, and everything else can be replaced,” said the 43-year-old Marysville woman, who fled with her husband, daughter and five other relatives.
Among the others getting a hasty change of scenery: 579 inmates from Butte County Jail, who were evacuated in guarded buses 150 miles south to Alameda County’s Santa Rita Jail in Dublin.
Officials tried to assure evacuees that it was better to endure the inconvenience than to risk death beneath a roiling wall of water. .
“We don’t want people coming back into the community, then having another incident and having to evacuate again,” said Chris Orrock, spokesman for the water resources department. “Our No. 1 priority is the safety of the community and our staff.”
Complicating matters is a series of storms set to hit the area around Lake Oroville starting late Wednesday that will accelerate inflow into the reservoir.
“The area around Lake Oroville and mountains around Lake Oroville will see 1 to 2 inches with that storm,” said Tom Dang, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Sacramento.
That system will be followed by several more soaking storms through the weekend. Weekly rain totals could be as much as 8 inches in the mountains around Lake Oroville, Dang said.
Water continued to pour into Lake Oroville at 37,000 cubic feet per second on Monday while the lake level fell from 901 feet on Sunday to about 895 feet around noon Monday. Based on the current inflow and outflow, the Department of Water Resources said the reservoir is dropping at a rate of 8 feet per day.
It wasn’t clear if the next series of storms — or any rains or snowmelt that may follow — could push the water back up and over the emergency spillway.”
…Continue reading more @ SFGate
Governor Brown’s Monday Press Conference | Nearly a Full Week after the start of the crisis last Tuesday
– Jerry Brown sounds like someone that just got into office. He seems to know so little so he goes into his politician mode.
“We have a lot of stuff here, we have to depend on the professionals, the engineers, they tell us what we need and then we do it.”
– Apparently not, reports are that the spillway badly needed repair and the governor did nothing since for three years. Instead he went to Rome, championed fighting Global Warming and championed programs for illegal aliens.
In a rambling, disjointed press conference he held after nearly a week of major problems at the dam, he tried to put the best face on his ill-timed and ill-considered squabbles with Washington now that he was asking for help and money from DC.
“It’s very difficult,” he stammered, “uh, I don’t….it’s hard to understand how people have been able to evacuate so quickly….and it distubance…to their lives.” What?
Two hundred thousand people evacuated and displaced, no government assistance, and all he can say is trust the government that they all doing all they can, when clearly they didn’t when it really mattered.
The Governor is now mired in three serious crises on his part time watch: The deal to bury toxic, deadly nuclear waste on the beach in San Onofre, the nation’s largest gas leak at Porter Ranch which also has no end in sight and now this potentially catastrophic disaster of his own making. Perhaps the governor should have concentrated on critical state problems instead of trying to be a global climate statesman. /CJ