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Dam Spill Could Have Towns Underwater

By Dan Gannon; For The Clock
On February 23, 2017

Dam Spill Could Have Towns Underwater 

Dan Gannon

For The Clock

drgannon@plymouth.edu 

 

The Oroville Dam’s spillways collapsed on Feb. 11, causing thousands of people to evacuate with threats of hundreds of thousands of homes being submerged underwater.

The Oroville Dam is located in Butte County, California and rests on Lake Oroville, which is the second largest man-made lake in California. Last year, California saw much of the year under a drought warning and ordered residents to conserve water, but as FOX 40 Sacramento reported Jan. 13, the area saw record rainfall. This caused the state’s Department of Water Resources to release water from the reservoir and 10,000 cubic   ft. per second. On Feb. 7, the main spillway for the dam was activated and water traveling at about 54,000 cubic ft. per second.

Upon further inspection of the spillway, the state Department of Water Resources realized that the main spillway had a giant crack in it. Instead of closing down the spillway they decided to reduce the water flow. They activated another spillway as a precaution. It was found then that the two emergency spillways both had cracks and problems.

This lead to the water elevation exceeding 901 ft., the first time in the 50-year history of the dam, and water began to flow over the top of it. Following the water leak, 188,000 people were mandated to evacuate their homes from neighboring towns around the lake. Sean Dennis, who lives in the area, told CNN, "It was pretty scary, just because of how fast everything was developing," he said. "Me and my wife managed to throw as much of stuff as we could into garbage bags, whatever we could find. We got both of our cars loaded down pretty well. We're not taking any chances." If the dam were to collapse all together, it would be a catastrophe.

Butte County insisted that nobody return to the area despite reports of looting, which were not confirmed. "I'm not going to lift the evacuation order until I have a better idea of what that means and what risk that poses," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said in a news conference. California’s Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency to help aid the situation.

On Feb. 14, residents were allowed to return to their homes, but the only security in place from a possible watery grave is thousands of rocks hauled in by dump trucks and flown in by helicopter. On Feb. 15 it was announced that the water level of Lake Oroville had dropped by 26 ft. reported FOX Sacramento.

On Feb. 19, the spillways outflow was dropped to between 55,000 and 60,000 cubic ft. per second the Department of Water Resources announced. The overall depth of Lake Oroville by 7 a.m. was 851.02 ft. reported the Marysville Police Department.

Concerns still amount as to what may happen to the erosion in the area and debris in the water. “We’re seeing erosion as all that energy moves downhill,” said Department of Water Resources Director Bill Croyle. “It’s hitting rocks and moving in different directions. It’s going to hit weathered material or soil and it’s going to carry it. That’s going to be a part of the normal process as we move forward.” As storms are expected to reach the area again, which have already claimed the lives of eight people in Northern California, fear of flooding is still a reality.

With the combined rain and melted snow Croyle suspects that the spillways may be at one point dealing with water traveling at 105,000 cubic ft. per second. Croyle said in a press conference that, “We need to move a lot of water through this reservoir, and we’re able to do it.” Crews will continue to pile mass amounts of rocks and concrete hoping that it will contain future flooding until a plan is put in place. 

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