Environment & Science

Signs of hope at Oroville Dam, after water overflowed emergency spillway

This Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, aerial photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows the damaged spillway with eroded hillside in Oroville, Calif. Water will continue to flow over an emergency spillway at the nation's tallest dam for another day or so, officials said Sunday. (William Croyle/California Department of Water Resources via AP)
This Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, aerial photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows the damaged spillway with eroded hillside in Oroville, Calif. Water will continue to flow over an emergency spillway at the nation's tallest dam for another day or so, officials said Sunday. (William Croyle/California Department of Water Resources via AP)
William Croyle/AP
This Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, aerial photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows the damaged spillway with eroded hillside in Oroville, Calif. Water will continue to flow over an emergency spillway at the nation's tallest dam for another day or so, officials said Sunday. (William Croyle/California Department of Water Resources via AP)
A long exposure photograph taken early Monday shows the Oroville Dam discharging water at a rate of 100,000 cubic feet per second over a spillway as an emergency measure in Oroville, Calif.
Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images
This Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, aerial photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows the damaged spillway with eroded hillside in Oroville, Calif. Water will continue to flow over an emergency spillway at the nation's tallest dam for another day or so, officials said Sunday. (William Croyle/California Department of Water Resources via AP)
Kendra Curieo waits in traffic to evacuate Marysville, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. Thousands of residents of Marysville and other Northern California communities were told to leave their homes Sunday evening as an emergency spillway of the Oroville Dam could fail at any time unleashing flood waters from Lake Oroville, according to officials from the California Department of Water Resources. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
This Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, aerial photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows the damaged spillway with eroded hillside in Oroville, Calif. Water will continue to flow over an emergency spillway at the nation's tallest dam for another day or so, officials said Sunday. (William Croyle/California Department of Water Resources via AP)
In this Feb. 11, 2017, photo released by the California Department of Water Resources, water flows over an emergency spillway at the Oroville Dam at Lake Oroville in Oroville, Calif. Water will continue to flow over the emergency spillway at the nation's tallest dam for another day or so, officials said Sunday. (Albert Madrid/California Department of Water Resources via AP)
Albert Madrid/AP
This Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, aerial photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows the damaged spillway with eroded hillside in Oroville, Calif. Water will continue to flow over an emergency spillway at the nation's tallest dam for another day or so, officials said Sunday. (William Croyle/California Department of Water Resources via AP)
A closed sign is displayed on the door of Papaciito's restaurant due to an evacuation order Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017, in Marysville, Calif. Thousands of Northern California residents remain under evacuation orders after authorities warned an emergency spillway in the country's tallest Oroville Dam was in danger of failing Sunday and unleashing uncontrolled flood waters on towns below. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Rich Pedroncelli/AP
This Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017, aerial photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows the damaged spillway with eroded hillside in Oroville, Calif. Water will continue to flow over an emergency spillway at the nation's tallest dam for another day or so, officials said Sunday. (William Croyle/California Department of Water Resources via AP)
A driver waits in traffic to evacuate Marysville, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 12, 2017. Thousands of residents of Marysville and other Northern California communities were told to leave their homes Sunday evening as an emergency spillway of the Oroville Dam could fail at any time unleashing flood waters from Lake Oroville, according to officials from the California Department of Water Resources. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Rich Pedroncelli/AP


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The area around a huge dam at California's second-largest reservoir is in a state of emergency, with some 180,000 residents of the area ordered to evacuate Sunday out of fears that part of Oroville Dam could fail. A glimmer of hope arrived late Sunday night, when officials said water had finally stopped pouring over the dam's emergency spillway.

https://twitter.com/CA_DWR/status/831024939100631040

The secondary spillway was in use because the main spillway had developed a huge hole, stressed by the need to release water accumulated from California's wet winter — and brought to a new crisis point by last week's heavy rains.

"So the lake rose 50 feet in just a few days," Dan Brekke of member station KQED tells Morning Edition, "and got up to this emergency spillway which had never been used since the dam went into service in 1968. And on Saturday morning, it began pouring over there."

Gov. Jerry Brown issued an emergency order last night, and residents of the area some 70 miles north of Sacramento were placed under evacuation orders at around 4:30 p.m. Sunday, after the reservoir rose to a record level — more than a foot above what's considered "full" — and its main spillway struggled to provide relief and its auxiliary spillway was seen at risk of failing.

Forces from the L.A. County Fire Department and other Southern California agencies were sent to offer aid last night, but were eventually called off Monday morning due to the dam situation's improvement.

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https://twitter.com/LAFD/status/831178225854316544

Even as the evacuation orders were issued, officials had reason to hope that Lake Oroville would soon begin to recede, due to a drop in the amount of runoff water entering the lake and a dry weather forecast.

"The lake is considered full at 901 feet [above sea level], and it's at that level that it began pouring over an emergency spillway early Saturday," KQED reports.

The lake kept rising, surpassing its "full" level by more than a foot. Last night, Lake Oroville's water level finally dropped below 900 feet around midnight, in a trend that has continued into Monday morning.

https://twitter.com/judywbrandt/status/831129455435264002/video/1

As for the residents and evacuees, Brekke says he has seen many confused, scared people — one woman's son, he says, compared the evacuation to a zombie apocalypse. And another woman said she's still worrying over the family members who weren't able to leave.

That resident, Marilyn McKinney, told Brekke:

"My daughter-in-law is still there with her sister, who is bedridden, but we've got her in a wheelchair. They were supposed to be sending an ambulance or someone to help transport her out. And nobody has shown up for her yet. She called 911, and 911 said they weren't sending anybody else out."

Overnight, evacuation centers and shelters were still in the process of being outfitted with beds and blankets; several were set up at fairgrounds to handle the thousands of people leaving Oroville and nearby areas downstream.

https://twitter.com/CHP_HQ/status/831049932601569281

https://twitter.com/CaltransDist3/status/830997953120595973

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