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Oroville Spillway Update: Gov. Brown Asks President To Declare Emergency

California Department of Water Resources

The volume of water poses no flood threat downstream and should remain within the capacity of the Feather River and other channels to handle. Oroville Dam in Butte County itself remains safe with no imminent threat to the public. Photo taken Feb. 12.

California Department of Water Resources

UPDATE 6:22 p.m.: Gov. Jerry Brown says an announcement will not be made Monday regarding the current evacuation order affecting nearly 200,000 people living downstream of the Oroville Dam.

Brown addressed a crowd at the Office of Emergency Services shortly before 6 p.m. He says the Sheriff's Department may make that call as early as Tuesday morning.

His message for the evacuees is that the state is doing everything possible to secure the situation.

Brown placed a formal request for the President to declare an emergency at the Oroville Dam.

As to whether the federal government will be helping fund repairs, he says he believes Washington and California will work together in a constructive way.

-Randol White / Capital Public Radio

UPDATE 5:09 p.m.: Concerns about the condition of the emergency spillway at Lake Oroville are more than a decade old.

Back in 2005 and 2006, several environmental groups filed formal motions with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC, calling for an armored concrete emergency spillway.

Paul Rogers is a science reporter with KQED and the San Jose Mercury News and has been following this story, and says that FERC now wants action.

"In fact, I'm just reporting a few minutes ago that FERC just sent an order to the state Department of Water Resources ordering them, within five days, to convene an independent panel of experts to look into what happened, to make recommendations on how to fix it quickly, and what recommendations permanently need to be made going forward," says Rogers.

You can hear the entire conversation with Paul Rogers Tuesday morning on Insight with Beth Ruyak starting at 9 a.m.

-Randol White / Capital Public Radio

UPDATE 4:20 p.m.: Federal agencies are providing California with preliminary assistance for the Oroville dam emergency, contrary to some rumors President Donald Trump is withholding aid to the state.

The President earlier this month had threatened to withhold federal funds, calling California “out of control.” A website that masquerades as a news outlet called the Sacramento Dispatch had published a false report that the president carried out that threat, after the Oroville dam emergency led to the evacuation of more than 180,000 Californians from their homes.

More here.

-Ben Bradford  / Capital Public Radio

UPDATE 3:15 p.m.: California water managers continue to release water out of the damaged main spillway at Oroville Dam at 100,000 cubic feet per second. For now, it’s lowering reservoir levels and the risk of the emergency spillway failing.

The outflow is the capacity of the American River at full flood stage. Joe Countryman is a former engineer with the US Army Corps of Engineers and a member of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board.

“That’s the best possible news that we had this morning when we woke up and saw what the situation was out there, that we were passing 100,000 cfs, it wasn’t head-cutting back toward the gates," says Countryman. "That would have been a catastrophe if it had been head-cutting back.” 

He says engineers should build up part of the emergency spillway to prevent water from hitting the eroding portion. That would allow the water to flow north over a parking lot.

-Amy Quinton / Capital Public Radio

UPDATE 1:09 p.m.: Emergency conditions are improving for communities downstream from Lake Oroville according to incident command.

However, an evacuation order remains in place for some 180,000 people until engineers say the emergency spillway structure is safe.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea says he considers the efforts to save the structure and evacuate the threatened communities to be a double success, but he's not yet ready to give the all-clear.

"Getting those people home is important to me. I want that to happen as absolutely soon as possible," says Honea. "But I have to be able to sleep at night knowing that they're back into that area, and if it's raining and there's more water coming into the lake, if I can't in good conscience believe that those people are safe, I haven't been doing my job."

Lake Oroville hit an all-time high this weekend, sending water over the top of the emergency spillway on Saturday morning.

Sunday afternoon around 4:30, engineers determined a hole developing near the base of the emergency spillway could cause the structure to fail within an hour.

If the structure were to fail, it would have sent a 30-foot wall of water down the feather river.

-Randol White / Capitol Public Radio

UPDATE 12 p.m.: 

CapRadio's Amy Quinton Explains The Situation At Lake Oroville

CapRadio's Beth Ruyak Checks In With The Flood Protection Board


UPDATE 11:30 a.m.: Insight with Beth Ruyak spoke with several officials and a reporter Monday morning to get the latest on the Oroville Spillway situation.

Marysville Mayor Rick Samoya says evacuations in Marysville are still in effect.

Adia White, a freelance reporter, says are plenty of options for shelter.

Bill Rasche with the National Weather Service says a series of storms starting later this week will bring several inches of rain varying on the region.

The California Operations of Emergency Management is looking to assist in any way possible with evacuations and shelter. Brad Alexander with the organization hopes more clarity on information will continue to come out consistently.

He explains that the situation with Lake Oroville is stable now, but it might change with incoming storms later this week. 

Listen to the full segment here.

-Capital Public Radio Staff

UPDATE 9 a.m.: Water levels at Lake Oroville are dropping and water has stopped spilling over Oroville Dam's potentially hazardous emergency spillway. But nearly 200,000 people remained under evacuation orders Monday morning.

California Department of Water Resources officials say they plan to inspect the erosion scar on the spillway.

CapRadio's Ben Adler Provides Updates On Oroville Spillway

Earlier Monday morning, CapRadio spoke with Republican state Senator Jim Nielsen, who represents the area. Although some residents said they were shocked, even angry, about being ordered to evacuate Sunday. Nielsen says the evacuations were "absolutely necessary."

"This was a very serious situation if that continues to erode," says Nielsen. "We just couldn't take chances with all the citizens, they needed to know and get out of the way."

UPDATE 7:25 a.m.: With the return of daylight, state officials Monday morning will inspect an erosion scar on the potentially hazardous emergency spillway at Oroville Dam.

Evacuations for nearly 200,000 people living below the dam were ordered yesterday after officials warned the emergency spillway was in danger of failing and unleashing uncontrolled flood waters on towns below.

At least 250 California law enforcement officers are in the area of the dam to ensure evacuated towns don't face looting or other criminal activity.

ORIGINAL: Nearly 200,000 people remain under evacuation orders as state authorities try to fix erosion of the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam that could unleash uncontrolled flood waters if it fails.

Butte County's Lake Oroville had water levels so high that an emergency spillway was used Saturday for the first time in the dam's nearly 50-year history. The evacuation was ordered Sunday afternoon after engineers spotted a hole and told authorities the spillway could fail within the hour. Some people living south of the dam say they're shocked and angry after being told they'd have to evacuate.

The cities of Oroville, Gridley, Live Oak, Marysville, Wheatland, Yuba City, Plumas Lake, and Olivehurst are all under evacuation orders.

Bill Croyle is acting director of the state Department of Water Resources. He says the dam is in no danger of failing.

"The integrity of the dam is not impacted by the damage to the spillway itself ... or in this case, this erosion that's occurred," says Croyle.

Croyle says with more rain expected as soon as Wednesday night, the department is preparing for even more water in the lake.

"Right now the inflow into the reservoir is 40,000 cubic feet per second," says Croyle. "We're discharging 100,000 cubic feet per second. So again, we're making additional flood control storage. We need to do that for a length of time so we can make room for the anticipated storm here later this week."

A California National Guard official says they will provide eight helicopters to help with emergency spillway reconstruction at the dam. Adjunct General David Baldwin says the helicopters will also be available for search and rescue if needed. 

Gov. Jerry Brown issued an emergency order last night to bolster the state’s response to the situation and support subsequent local evacuations. 

The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services has activated the State Operations Center, at Sacramento's former Mather Air Force Base. Evacuation centers have been set up at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico, and other county fairgrounds in Colusa, Glenn and Nevada counties.

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea says he has deployed staff to analyze and evaluate conditions of various areas affected.

"[We need to evaluate] what areas are clearly in danger and what areas may be less vulnerable, but that analysis still needs to be done," says Honea. "And so we're going to continue in our current status until we have some better information about whether or not it's safe to bring people back in."

Oroville Dam is the nation's tallest dam. It's located about 70 miles north of Sacramento. The State Department of Water Resources says there appears to be no immediate threat to the Sacramento area. The department says if there was a compromise of the dam, it would not significantly impact Sacramento as the Sacramento River channel has sufficient capacity to accommodate increased flows. 

-Steve Milne / Capital Public Radio, Drew Sandsor contributed to this report. 

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