Tale of two cities: Marysville a ghost town, while Yuba City relatively bustling
Sutter County officials said mandatory evacuation orders remain in effect for county areas and the city of Yuba City late Monday afternoon even as many Yuba City residents began returning to their homes.
“Officials on both sides of the river see the need to continue the evacuation as long as the existing threat continues. That threat is the (auxiliary) spillway. We have a lot of winter left,” said Chuck Smith, Sutter County spokesman from the county’s emergency operations center at Sutter Fire Department in the town of Sutter.
Though many shops remain closed in Yuba City and Highway 99 was closed northbound at Bridge Street, some businesses were open, with lines at a fast-food restaurant next to Yuba-Sutter Mall. Meantime, shoppers crowded parking lots at a shopping center at Butte House Road and Stabler Lane in the city’s western half.
The relative bustle of Yuba City was in stark contrast to Marysville, across the Feather River in Yuba County where a mandatory evacuation remained in force and much of the city remained abandoned Monday.
Oroville mayor concerned about economic hardship
Oroville Mayor Linda Dahlmeier has been in Sacramento since Sunday after flying in from a conference in San Diego.
She said she’s been talking to state officials about the situation in her town, and says she is especially concerned about the economic hardship to the town’s many elderly, retired residents and others on fixed incomes.
Some have had to pay for motels out of town while they wait out the mandatory evacuation order.
“This is particularly stressful for them,” she said. “We hope to get people home as soon as possible, but only when it is safe.”
She said she has broached the subject with state officials of some financial help for Oroville residents, but said it’s too early to know whether that’s possible.
‘A little bit of panic’
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On the first full day of a mandatory evacuation order in Marysville, authorities were at work shuttling seniors to safer ground and patrolling neighborhoods confident they said that most of the city’s 10,000 residents took heed of orders to leave town.
“There’s every reason to believe they took it seriously. Within an hour of (the evacuation order), roads were completely packed,” said Marysville Police Sgt. Jason Garringer on Monday. Residents swarmed streets headed out of town Sunday night, lining B Street and jamming 12th Street, the route east toward the Yuba and Nevada County foothills and higher ground.
“There was a little bit of panic,” frayed nerves leading to “a few physical fights,” and a non-injury traffic collision near 22nd Street on the town’s eastern edge, Garringer said, but no injuries or arrests resulted.
“There are no instructions for residents to reenter” Marysville, Garringer said, though officials are “hoping we can slowly bring people back in eventually,” he said. Roads were open however, and traffic headed through town into early afternoon even as much of the town remained abandoned.
The focus Monday was on seniors and the infirm, living alone or in senior apartments including Buttes Christian Manor on F Street near downtown where some 40 residents were bused to other locations, Garringer said. Though many are staying with family and friends, Garringer said police were checking as many as 30 to 40 locations where others needed assistance.
Meantime, medical group Rideout Health’s 200 senior patients at three skilled living, assisted living and memory facilities in Yuba City were evacuated to facilities in the Sacramento area Sunday night, said Rideout Health CEO Gino Patrizio. The evacuation was only part of a long night for Rideout Health and its Rideout Memorial Hospital in Marysville.
There, patients, doctors and staff sheltered in place – the 180-bed, multi-story acute care facility tall enough for people to evacuate vertically in this historically flood-prone area.
Rideout, working with state Department of Public Health and regional disaster health managers, was able to divert all but the most serious patients – the “hemodynamically unstable,” Patrizio said – to other area hospitals, the better to manage the crisis.
On Sunday night, doctors and staff rested in the yet-unfinished fourth and fifth floors. Soon, they will open for birthing and neo-natal care, though they can be pressed into service, Patrizio said. On Monday, more than a dozen others were working at a hospital command center taking information on evacuation shelters, reports from state agencies and the many others operating under the mass evacuation.
Roving police patrols were also cruising residential blocks protecting against potential looting, Garringer said. “There were a couple of cases of people casing neighborhoods” late Sunday, he said. No arrests had been made as of late morning, but “It’s something we’re concerned about.”
“Our priority today is life and property. It’s our duty to make sure homes are safe and people are protected,” Garringer said.
Oroville vice mayor: ‘There’s a degree of frustration’
Oroville vice mayor Janet Goodson is marooned in Red Bluff after evacuating Sunday night.
She said she respects and understands the sheriff’s call for continued evacuations, and says that safety is the foremost issue, but she said she also feels frustrated.
“To be honest with you, there is a degree of frustration,” she said.
Asked whether it was a mistake not to have done more to improve the spillway earlier, she said she prefers to look forward
“We are where we are,” she said. “We can learn from mistakes, things we failed to recognize. We have to move forward in a collaborative fashion and make sure this does not happen in the future. This is a learning experience for us.”
No end in sight for evacuations, situation remains ‘dynamic,’ sheriff says
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea denied rumors that the evacuation order that displaced 188,000 residents would end Monday afternoon at 4:15 p.m.
“I understand there are a lot of rumors out there suggesting the evacuation is going to end at 4:15 today,” Honea said at a press briefing in Oroville. “That is not accurate.
“This is still a dynamic situation...We need to have time to make sure that before we allow people back into those areas it is safe to do so.”
Honea said the decision to order evacuations was difficult, and said deciding when to allow people to return “is equally difficult.”
“I recognize that this is displacing a lot of people,” he said. “I recognize what a hardship it has placed upon our community.”
The sheriff added that officials “are working on a repopulation plan to allow for the safe and orderly” return of residents, but that no timetable has been established.
“It’s a risk analysis,” he said. “You’re trying to understand the various elements. You’re trying to balance the risks....I wish it was as simple as a checklist.”
Honea said officials are hoping to see the lake level reduced by another 50 feet to prepare upcoming storms.
That level of lake spillage could take “10 to 15 days, it could be a little longer,” to reach that threshold, said Bill Croyle, acting director of the Department of Water Resources.
He has a more modest if pressing goal: To provide enough flood control space to accommodate the storm expected to hit the region Thursday.
“We’re trying to get 15 feet of storage,” Croyle said.
The lake has fallen about 5 feet since the evacuations were ordered Sunday afternoon, and at current rates will fall about 8 feet per day until the next storm rolls in.
“We expect to continue to make significant progress,” Croyle said.
Asked why the concrete lip of the emergency spillway was considered at risk when a peak of only 12,000 cubic feet of water per second flowed over the structure – a fraction of the 250,000 cfs that it was supposed to accommodate – he suggested it was difficult to predict the reliability of something built 48 years ago and had never been used before.
“This is the first time it’s ever taken water over the system,” he said. “Sometimes, amazingly, lower flows can cause more energy....We don’t know exactly why the erosion occurred.”
Chris Orrock, a DWR spokesman, said slower flows can sometimes create more erosion than swifter flows. Why? Because a faster flow sometimes skims over the top of the landscape, while a slower flow gets into the nooks and crannies.
Croyle said the main spillway has suffered no additional damage despite releasing 100,000 cfs since Sunday afternoon. The water “is coming out clean,” a sign that soil isn’t being churned up despite the enormous crevice that was discovered Tuesday.
A critically important electrical transmission tower immediately adjacent to the damaged main spillway has survived the higher flows, Orrock said. “It hasn’t washed away,” he said.
Late Friday DWR dialed back the flows from 65,000 to 55,000 in order to save the tower – an act that allowed the lake to fill up more quickly, forcing the emergency spillway into action Saturday morning. Officials defended the move because the tower would be needed if the dam is able to restart its power plant, which can push out an additional 13,000 cfs when operational.
At some point Pacific Gas and Electric Co plans to relocate the tower to higher ground, Orrock said.
Sam Stanton and Dale Kasler
Looting arrest reported in Oroville
Oroville police say they have made one arrest and have identified a second suspect in connection with two looting crimes that occurred Sunday night.
Suspects smashed windows at a Dollar General and a liquor store, stealing alcohol and food.
“Is it looting? That (term) probably does apply. We’re just calling it burglary,” Police spokesman Joe Deal said.
Otherwise, there have been few calls for service and few problems in town since the Sunday night evacuation call. Deal said 25 officers are on patrol, focused on residential areas and low-lying areas near the river. Oroville police are being supplemented by officers from the Orland police department, the CHP, and the sheriff’s department.
Most calls Monday have been from people asking police to check on the welfare of relatives or friends.
Police officials say they have heard of instances of people returning to town but say they are advising against that.
“A lot of people are calling, asking if they can come back, and we are discouraging that,” Deal said.
Schools will remain closed all week
Dozens of schools in evacuation areas throughout Yuba, Sutter and Butte counties are expected to remain closed at least through Tuesday.
Many districts were already scheduled to be closed Monday in observance of President Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. Although most say they will remain closed Tuesday, many won’t reopen until notified by authorities that the area is safe.
In Yuba County, all schools and offices within Marysville Joint Unified will be closed at least through Tuesday, according to the district website.
“We will notify parents when it is safe for their students to return to school,” said a statement on the website. “We will also notify staff when they are to return to work.”
The Plumas Lake Elementary School district says it will remain closed until authorities remove the evacuation order.
The Wheatland School District will remain closed through Tuesday, and won’t reopen until the area is determined to be safe, according to its website. Wheatland is under voluntary evacuation.
“Many of our staff and students have been evacuated and are not in the area,” the website stated. “We will notify parents and staff when it is safe to return to school again.”
Wheatland Union High School District officials could not be reached for comment.
Comptonville Unified School District in north Yuba County was not affected by the evacuation.
Ten school districts in Sutter County were already scheduled to be closed Monday in observance of Lincoln’s birthday. Several reported on their websites they will remain closed Tuesday due to the Oroville spillway emergency: Yuba City and Live Oak unified school districts and Browns Elementary School District.
The Butte County Office of Education website cited a dozen closed school districts in the county evacuation area: Bangor Union Elementary School District; Biggs Unified School District; Durham Unified School District; Feather Falls Union Elementary School District; Golden Feather Union Elementary School District; Gridley Unified School District; Manzanita Elementary School District; Oroville Elementary School District; Oroville Union High School District; Palermo Union Elementary School District; Pioneer Union Elementary School District; and Thermalito Union Elementary School District.
Chico Unified School District and Paradise Unified School District were not affected.
Loretta Kalb and Diana Lambert
A long night for the volunteers, too
Bob Mulholland, the longtime California Democratic Party activist and Chico resident since 1972, was volunteering at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds shelter in Chico until 3 a.m. Monday.
“The last cots didn’t show up until about 3:02 a.m.,” Mulholland said. “They came from Sacramento. The drivers told me it only took them two hours to drive from Sac because they came up (Interstate) 5.
“But there were a lot of elderly people here. It was, ‘Hey Bob, can you help me with my medicine?’ They were all confused, and slumped in the chairs. It was just unfortunate that the non-profit and the government agencies couldn’t move the stuff quicker.
“It was only 90 miles. But there was hundreds of people here who didn’t have cots and they were very cold. But the good news is, the fairgrounds is a real asset for this. Cal Fire puts their army in here during the big fires. People are much happier today.
“But it’s the unknown -- when can they go home? They don’t know.”
How to help Oroville Dam evacuees -- and their cats
For those who want to help, two social service agencies aiding evacuees with food and shelter are accepting donations.
There’s also a way to help four-legged evacuees, pets who had to leave their homes due to the emergency.
The Salvation Army is serving food and the American Red Cross is handling shelter for hundreds of people who had to leave their homes Sunday night when conditions looked dire at an emergency spillway for Lake Oroville.
Red Cross Gold Country volunteers provided shelter to 800 people at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico. The combined total for Red Cross and community shelters was 2,200, according to the Red Cross.
“We appreciate the concern of people wanting to volunteer or donate items at our shelter; currently we are fortunate to have all of the supplies and personnel we need,” the agency posted on its Facebook page. “If you would like to become a Red Cross volunteer or make a donation to the general disaster fund, please go to RedCross.org/GoldCountry or call 800 REDCROSS.”
The Salvation Army is serving meals at the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds and at the Nevada County Fairgrounds for residents who have been evacuated due to the erosion at the Oroville Dam emergency spillway.
The Salvation Army is accepting monetary donations, and the organization will use 100 percent of the money for local disaster relief operations.
To give: visit the organization’s website or call 800 725-2769 and say the donation is for “Oroville Response.” Donations may be mailed to The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 348000, Sacramento, 95834.
More than 300 Oroville Dam evacuees and their pets are currently taking shelter at the Yolo County Fairgrounds. Yolo County Animal Services is helping supply the animals with kennels, pens, blankets, beds, food and kitty litter.
Animal Services is running short of dry cat food and cat litter. They will take any brand, open bags or brand new.
Donations can be brought either directly to the Yolo County Fairgrounds, 1250 Gum Ave, Woodland, or to Yolo County Animal Services shelter, 140 Tony Diaz Drive in Woodland.
The shelter is open Monday 1 to 5 p.m.
After braving 2-1/2 drives to avoid potential flooding near Marysville, 650 people at the Nevada County Fairgrounds await word on when they can return home after threats from damage at the Oroville Dam spillway. The Red Cross is operating the shel
Evacuation totals are huge but hardly a record for California
The crisis at Oroville Dam has forced about 188,000 people to evacuate their homes with no idea when they will be allowed back in. The total far exceeds the 100,000 who were evacuated from the area during the 1997 floods.
But California, with its history of devastating wildfires, has seen much larger evacuations in past years.
CalFire says the largest came during Southern California fires in October 2007 that displaced 900,000 people, the largest evacuation in California history and the largest fire evacuation in the United States.
Other crises elsewhere have prompted much larger evacuations, including Hurricane Rita in 2005, which forced the evacuation of roughly 2.5 million people from Houston.
Yuba City evacuee Merida Lozano waits at the Yolo County Fairgrounds for word that it is safe to return home. She and many others have been displaced by evacuations after damage to the Oroville Dam spillway. Monday, February 13, 2017.
Yuba City band members make unexpected detour
Yuba City high school band members take sudden detour to Elk Grove because of flooding danger
Yuba City high school students made an unexpected stop in Elk Grove on Sunday after learning their homes in Sutter County had been evacuated.
The 150 students from Yuba City High School and River Valley High School were returning from a band competition in Southern California when they learned that their Sutter County homes had been evacuated because of the danger that the Oroville Dam emergency spillway would fail.
The buses of students were welcomed with warm pizza and cots at Pleasant Grove High School, said Elk Grove Mayor Steve Ly.
“I’m just proud to see our city and our community can come together to support another city and another community.” he said. “This is one of the things that makes me proud to be an Elk Grovian.”
Most of the students’ parents were already at the school waiting to pick them up when they arrived in Elk Grove around 11 p.m. Sunday. Only five were left at the shelter in the morning, but were picked up after breakfast, said Xanthi Pinkerton, spokeswoman for Elk Grove Unified.
The emergency shelter was staffed by members of the Sheriff’s Department, emergency crews from the Cosumnes Fire Department and volunteers, Ly said. Officials originally set up Pleasant Grove High School on Saturday to serve as a shelter for evacuated Point Pleasant residents in south Sacramento County, but the facility attracted so few people that it was shut down later that day.
Butte County Jail inmates moved out of danger zone
Butte County sheriff’s officials successfully moved all of inmates out of their jail Sunday night in a caravan.
“All 578 inmates from the Butte County Jail were safely transported to the Santa Rita Jail, located in the city of Dublin, in Alameda County,” the sheriff’s office said. “This is the first time an evacuation order has been issued at the Butte County Jail.”
The effort required about 80 people and five buses from the county’s education office, along with other vehicles from sheriff’s officials in Placer, Shasta and Tehama counties.
The CHP escorted the caravan.
Beale AFB opens gates to evacuees
Beale Air Force Base officials opened the base gates Sunday night to allow evacuees to travel away from the danger zone, and opened a shelter on base to house people needing to stay.
“We will not turn anyone away,” the base said through its Twitter account Sunday.
By Monday morning, about 400 people had taken refuge at the shelter.
“This was an immediate and emergency action to support a portion of the 180,000 evacuees of the Oroville Dam emergency situation,” according to a post on Beale’s Facebook account. “We have received approximately 400 evacuees.”
Evacuees worry about whether officials will know if Oroville Dam is safe
Roughly 200 evacuees slept overnight at Yolo County Fairgrounds in Woodland, said Yolo County Administrator Patrick Blacklock. Frantic and worried evacuees, most of whom are from Yuba City, said they felt more calm Monday morning.
Some people rested on cots set up inside an arts building at the fairgrounds, checking their phones for news updates or eating breakfast, while others waited out the evacuation orders in their cars. Evacuees said they rushed from their homes Sunday afternoon and into the evening, many in fear and panic, when they heard news that the auxiliary spillway at Oroville Dam could fail.
“It was so scary. It was like a bad movie, everyone was panicking and driving crazy. It was really scary,” said Maribel Cervantes, 35, of Yuba City.
Cervantes threw some clothes in a hamper and joined throngs of evacuees fleeing Yuba City late Saturday. She said she’s worried about getting back to work as a nursing assistant, but she still has deep concerns about potential flooding.
“How can they assure us that it’s safe?” she asked. “How can we be 100 percent sure when one minute they’re saying the spillway was about to collapse?”
Raul Nava, 29, waited until about midnight to leave his home in Yuba City.
“We’re scared about flooding, our house is right next to the levees,” he said. “We just packed food, water, you know the basics, and headed out.”
Nava said he and his wife and his dad first tried to get in to an evacuation center in Colusa but were turned away. It took them five hours to reach the shelter in Woodland, he said. With him he brought his two pit bulls, and 10 pit bull puppies.
“We’re ready to go home,” he said.
While some shelter sites were at capacity, people were still trickling in to the Yolo County Fairgrounds Monday morning. The parking lot was about half full, and deliveries of cots and water were still coming in. Yolo County health officials, law enforcement and mental health experts were on site to assist.
Merida Lozano, 40, of also of Yuba City, said she too left in a hurry Saturday afternoon. She and her four kids got to the emergency shelter at the Yolo County Fairgrounds around 1 a.m. after being turned away from several area hotels that were full, she said.
“We had no clue what was going on until about 4, when we heard about the evacuation orders,” Lozano said. “The roads were empty and all of the sudden there were cars everywhere. My emotions are all over the place...at least we made it here with the kids.”
Lozano said her sister stayed behind in Yuba City.
“We’re just waiting to go home right now,” she said. “I hope they learn from this and reinforce the spillway so that we aren’t in this position if this were to ever happen again.”
Colleen Kingsley lives four blocks away from the Oroville Dam spillway. Now at a shelter in Chico, she described a chaotic scene getting out on Sunday.
Can officials drain Lake Oroville fast enough?
Water is flowing out of Lake Oroville’s main spillway fast enough to cause lake levels to drop by up to 30 feet before the next storm Wednesday night.
OES spokesman Scott McLean said the lake level is continuing to inch downtown “four inches an hour, about eight feet a day.”
Officials hope that will be enough. Lake Oroville can fill fast during a big storm. During storms from Monday of last week through Friday, lake levels increased by 50 feet.
The main factor in how fast the lake drains continues to be the condition of the main spillway. Officials said Monday morning that the main spillway had not further deteriorated despite huge outflows cascading over it Sunday afternoon and evening.
The more water drained from the lake by the next storm, the less chance that the lake again will fill to the point that activates the emergency spillway. Erosion on the emergency spillway Sunday night created the need to evacuate nearly 200,000 people.
With 100,000 cubic feet per second of water flowing out of the lake, lake levels were dropping about one foot every 3 hours on Monday morning, state figures show. That translates to a drop of about 120,000 acre-feet every 24 hours.
At current pace, the lake will fall to about 400,000 acre-feet below its emergency spillway by Thursday morning. To get the lake back to the levels normally mandated for flood control, it would need to fall by about 700,000 acre-feet.
Officials have more modest goals. They said Sunday night that they hope to drain the lake by 20 to 30 feet by the next storm. At current pace, they will hit that target.
Helicopters approach a staging area where bags filled with crushed rock await their placement on the damaged emergency spillway of Oroville Dam on Monday, Feb. 13, 2017.
Phillip Reese and Dale Kasler
Evacuations cause post offices to temporarily close
Mail delivery is curtailed and post offices closed in areas where Lake Oroville-caused evacuations have taken place.
“We are making every attempt to get mail delivered where conditions are safe,” said Ashleigh Rodriguez, Manager of Post Office Operations for Sacramento District.
Communities with closed post offices due to evacuations: Nicolaus, Oroville, Yuba City, Marysville, Gridley, Live Oak, Biggs, Olivehurst and Palermo.
Water levels dropped Monday at California's Lake Oroville, stopping water from spilling over a massive dam's potentially hazardous emergency spillway after authorities ordered the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people from towns lying below the lake
Hospital patients, people without cars, remain in Oroville
Not everyone was able to escape Oroville last night.
Grant Gallaway lives in an apartment one block from the Feather River. He can see the dam on the hill above, and he doesn’t own a car.
When the apartment manager told him that evacuations had been ordered, he stuffed some clothes into a backpack and started walking uphill to a high spot in town. As he walked, he heard police on loudspeakers telling people to head to Highway 70.
He chose Oroville hospital, where he spent the night sitting on a chair in the emergency room.
He was still there Monday morning hoping for word that he can go back to his apartment.
“It’s just wait, and wait, and wait some more,” he said.
Robert Wentz, CEO at Oroville hospital, said the hospital is operating normally, although patients were moved last night to the second floor “out of an abundance of caution.”
The hospital is on a hill, out of what he called the inundation zone. The hospital has 95 patients, and is fully staffed.
“Evacuation of acutely ill people is very serious, so it is generally better to shelter in place,” he said. “We feel the patients are very safe.”
Not everyone was able to escape Oroville last night.
Torrent of water didn’t further degrade main Oroville Dam spillway
State officials said an early morning inspection of the battered main spillway revealed that ramping up the water releases did no additional damage to the main release point for the dam.
“There’s been no additional erosion on the main spillway,” said Chris Orrock, a state Department of Water Resources spokesman. “We will continue at 100,000 (cfs).”
Orrock added that while giant sandbags are being filled with crushed aggregate at a staging area overlooking the dam, it is still uncertain whether the aggregate will be helicoptered in to try to fix the erosion beneath the emergency spillway.
Preparations to shore up emergency spillway under way
Work crews were pulverizing giant aggregate boulders, then depositing them in oversized white sand bags at a staging area overlooking the Oroville Dam.
The plan is to drop the sand bags into the crevice that opened up Sunday afternoon below the emergency spillway, jeopardizing the integrity of the structure and prompting the evacuations.
Approximately 188,000 people were evacuated due to the threat of the emergency spillway of the Oroville Dam, the United States' tallest dam, failing and unleashing flood waters. Here's drone footage from the California Department of Water Resource
Salvation Army accepting donations and serving meals following evacuations
The Salvation Army is accepting donations to support relief operations, which include breakfast and lunch for people at an evacuation center in Chico.
Following the emergency at Lake Oroville, many streamed into the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds, 2357 Fair St. A Salvation Army crew from Chico prepared breakfast for evacuees. A mobile kitchen unit from Santa Rosa is scheduled to make lunch.
The Salvation Army is accepting monetary donations, and said the organization will use 100 percent of the money for local disaster relief operations.
To give: visit the organization’s website or call 800 725-2769 and say the donation is for “Oroville Response.” Donations may be mailed to The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 348000, Sacramento, 95834.
Evacuated northern California residents filled the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico, Calif. on Sunday night. 160,000 people were in the evacuation zone south of the Oroville Dam. After the shelter filled, residents were directed to the Neighborh
Evacuees at the Homewood Suites by Hilton and the Hampton Inn and Suites talk about being among the more than 162,000 residents affected by Sunday night’s evacuation orders.
Another rainstorm headed to Oroville after a few days of sunshine
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.
Snow levels could fall to about the 4,000-feet elevation level Sunday and Monday.
The troubled reservoir in Butte County is trying to release as much water as possible before new storms move into the region.
Lake Oroville levels dropping as heavy releases continue
Early Monday morning, Lake Oroville water levels continued to fall below the level at which water flows over the emergency spillway, as an evacuation order for 188,000 people remained in place.
The drop in the lake level was early evidence that the Department of Water Resources’ desperate attempt to prevent a catastrophic failure of the dam’s emergency spillway appeared to be paying dividends.
The light of the morning will reveal whether the damaged, main spillway will hold up under such powerful flows, and whether it can be relied upon to handle that level of water through the rest of the rainy season, said Jay Lund, a civil engineering professor at UC Davis.
Water coming over the top of the emergency spillway is likely the main factor in its erosion on Sunday, according to the Department of Water Resources.
Water flows over the emergency spillway when the lake level is 901 feet. At its highest, at 3 a.m. Sunday, the lake level was 902.59 feet.
As of 4 a.m., the lake level had fallen to 898 feet.
The drop in the level is due to heavy flows going down the damaged main spillway. Nearly 100,000 cubic feet per second was flowing out of the lake over the concrete spillway that has been pummeled by releases.
About half that amount was flowing into the lake, which means the swollen reservoir is slowly draining.
A large section of concrete at the bottom of the spillway had already collapsed by Sunday, the initial cause of the emergency. It is not clear how much further damage was done to the main spillway by releasing water so quickly.
DWR started ramping up water releases from the dam’s crippled main spillway before 4 p.m., eventually increasing flows to 100,000 cubic feet per second. That was about double what it had been releasing.
By about 8:45 p.m., enough water had drained out of the reservoir that water no longer flowed over the emergency spillway, which had been releasing water since Saturday morning. Law enforcement ordered the evacuation of 188,000 people downstream after a gash was found in the hillside directly below the 1,700-foot-wide concrete lip of the emergency spillway. Officials feared all or part of the concrete lip could collapse, leading to an unfathomable, uncontrolled release of water.
Until Sunday evening, DWR had been reluctant to push too much water through the main spillway. The department feared that the huge pothole that opened up last Tuesday in the 3,000-foot concrete structure would dramatically worsen, hampering their efforts to release substantial amounts of water.
Late Sunday night, however, DWR Acting Director Bill Croyle said it appeared the spillway was bearing up.
Asked about fresh erosion on the main spillway, Croyle said, “We haven’t seen any.” Erosion on the main spillway had slowed considerably in the past couple of days even before water releases were dramatically increased Sunday evening.
Croyle said his goal was to reduce the lake level by at least 20 to 30 feet in the coming days as another rainstorm is expected to hit the area Thursday. “I’m a flood guy, I want available flood storage,” he told a group of reporters who clustered around him after a press briefing with law enforcement and emergency personnel.
He raised the possibility of going beyond 100,000 cfs to push more water out, but added: “With a damaged spillway we want to be careful.”
There is a plan currently in place which would hopefully plug a hole in the emergency spillway, including using helicopters dropping bags of rock into the crevasse to prevent any further erosion. Here's the loud, chaotic scene as the choppers prep
National Guard on stand-by
The scale of Sunday’s mobilization of the California National Guard was the largest since then-Gov. Pete Wilson ordered a statewide alert during the 1992 riots following the Rodney King verdict.
The guard has ordered its 23,000 soldiers and airmen to be to ready for deployment, Adjutant General David Baldwin told reporters late Sunday.
About 100 soldiers will patrol evacuated areas after relieving local law enforcement agencies, Baldwin said. Their main mission will be to deter looting and other public safety tasks, he said.
The guard also has sent in eight UH-60 Blackhawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters to help Department of Water Resources crews begin repairing the spillway. Twenty-two guard trucks have been deployed as well, he said.
“We’ve kind of shifted our focus in the last several hours,” Baldwin said. “When we first spun up for this, it was going to be exclusively swift-water rescue and aviation support. We’re now starting to shift that to providing care and shelter for people and law enforcement support.”