California water managers got an earful from angry residents in Oroville Tuesday night because of how complications with the emergency spillway were handled.
It was the first meeting in the community since the threat of a spillway failure at Oroville dam forced nearly 200,000 people in the region to evacuate. California Department of Water Resources officials began the meeting by apologizing to Oroville residents for the stress, fear and disruption the massive evacuation in February caused.
They tried to assure the crowd of about 250 that the damaged spillway will be repaired by Nov. 1.
"Our hope is for these types of meetings is that we can begin to build some degree of trust with the community," DWR Chief Deputy Director Cindy Messer says in a packed auditorium.
The guarantee was not enough for Oroville resident Don Blake, who wants to see the department draw down Lake Oroville so it is only half full.
“Your number one priority is public safety," Blake says. "I don’t like having my life threatened; 180,000 other people don’t like their lives threatened. And you folks have a responsibility to keep that lake at a safe level and not put our lives in danger again.”
DWR officials say lowering the lake level that much would hinder their ability to repair the main spillway in time for the rainy season.
Contrarily, Juanita Espinal thanked state officials for averting what could have been the biggest dam disaster in the nation.
“We would all be displaced right now if it wasn’t for you guys," Espinal says. "We would have nowhere to go; we probably wouldn’t even be alive, so your brilliant decisions and all of your guys' plan-making has made it to where we have our community and we still have our dam and we still have our homes.”
Five more public meetings in the region are scheduled over the next few weeks.