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Oroville Could Be Bigger than Believed

Monday, February 13, 2017 21:17
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By Douglas V. Gibbs

A friend called this morning to ask if I was anywhere near the Oroville Dam.  I forget that people don’t realize how massive of a State California is.  Oroville is north of San Francisco, I live slightly inland between San Diego and Los Angeles.
The Oroville Dam situation in Northern California, however, is severe, and could be something that sends a message to us down here in Southern California (and could influence our water availability down here).
Over 100,000 people have been asked to evacuate, so far, near the Oroville Dam in Northern California.  The fear is that the emergency spillway could fail, sending huge amounts of water into the Feather River, which runs through downtown Oroville, and other waterways.
The efforts to resolve the problem have been going on for more than a week.  The worse has passed, but a threat of flooding as the reservoir behind the Oroville dam reached capacity and its main spillway was severely damaged still remains a threat.
Officials have been releasing 100,000 cubic feet of water per second from the paved spillway. No water is going over the emergency spillway at this point.

Erosion has caused the problem, largely caused by recent storms.  If the emergency spillway gave way, it could unleash a 30-foot-tall wall of water on the region.  Although the Oroville dam facility’s main spillway is paved with concrete, the emergency spillway is not. Erosion that occurred along the emergency spillway over the weekend due to heavy rains prompted the emergency situation.The lake’s water level, due to the release of water through the spillway, has dropped several feet due to the efforts to bring down the water level.  Crews have been gathering giant boulders that helicopters have been able to airlift to the emergency spillway and plop onto the area that was eroding.

There has been no timetable given, yet, regarding if folks may return to their homes.

Southern California is dependent upon a wet northern California, and with our own reservoirs down here Oroville is a stark reminder that the threat of a compromised spillway, or dam, could be a threat anywhere.

Oroville is also important to Southern California because it is the linchpin of the State Water Project.  It brings Northern Sierra water from the Feather River to the Sacramento River, through the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, into the California Aqueduct, over the Tehachapis and to residents in Southern California.  A loss of the Oroville facility would put SoCal into a worse water situation, after a few years of drought already has the Los Angeles Basin and San Diego area down to drops of water with only a dent made into the drought by this year’s rains.

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