El Niño forcing Oroville Dam spillway opening next week

El Niño forcing Oroville Dam spillway opening next week

March 27, 2019

 

 

 

The California Department of Water Resources is being forced by looming El Niño rainstorms to open the uncompleted Oroville Dam main spillway next week.

 

The Department of Water Resources issued public reassurances on February 21 that uncompleted repairs at the Oroville Dam, which forced about 188,000 emergency evacuations after a near collapse in February 2017, are not a problem, since DWR did not expect the reservoir water level to rise enough to use the spillway anytime soon.

 

But the timing of DWR's announcement came just a week after the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center issued an advisory that an El Niño cyclical weather pattern had formed and would last through the summer.  The 2017 El Niño hammered California with super-wet rainstorms known as the "Pineapple Express."

 

DWR continued business as usual, even as the Trump administration on February 28 denied California's request for $306 million in FEMA disaster relief reimbursement from the 2017 Oroville Dam spillway failure and emergency evacuations.

 

FEMA determined that California was ineligible for Oroville Dam national disaster reimbursement due to its subject matter expert blaming "leakage through cracks and joints of the Gated Spillway" causing high drain outflows that "have been observed for 50 years."  FEMA claimed that management deficiencies over five decades included a "lack of modification of design" and "repeated ineffective and possibly detrimental repairs."

 

DWR's 2017–2018 Operations Plan to repair the dam and adjacent infrastructure was first estimated at $260 million, but the cost ballooned to $1.1 billion in early March 2019.  Despite a multitude of un-bid change orders, continuous water seepage is visibly trickling from the foot and dozens of points on upper dam's main spillway.

 

After DWR inexplicably announced "construction blasting" around Oroville Dam, Paul Preston and a group of concerned residents living in the downstream flood plain filed for an injunction at the Butte County Courthouse to prevent vibrations from blasting causing the earthen dam's "hydrated" soil to become liquefied and cause a catastrophic failure.

 

But with two big rainstorms moving in this week, after 10 inches of rainfall the last four weeks pushed water levels to 845 feet, or just 55 feet from overflowing the dam and creating another crisis, DWR reversed course on March 26 and started notifying regulatory agencies, local law enforcement, and local elected officials:

 

DWR is taking steps to remove construction equipment from the spillway chute to "prepare for use of the main spillway potentially as early as the first week of April."

 

California officials claim that the "main spillway and the emergency spillway are reconstructed and able to handle flows as needed to manage lake levels and provide flood protection for the surrounding communities."  But as a precaution, DWR is installing temporary cameras and lights alongside the Oroville Dam's main spillway "for observational purposes when water begins to flow down the chute."

 

The California Department of Water Resources is being forced by looming El Niño rainstorms to open the uncompleted Oroville Dam main spillway next week.

 

The Department of Water Resources issued public reassurances on February 21 that uncompleted repairs at the Oroville Dam, which forced about 188,000 emergency evacuations after a near collapse in February 2017, are not a problem, since DWR did not expect the reservoir water level to rise enough to use the spillway anytime soon.

 

But the timing of DWR's announcement came just a week after the National Weather Service's Climate Prediction Center issued an advisory that an El Niño cyclical weather pattern had formed and would last through the summer.  The 2017 El Niño hammered California with super-wet rainstorms known as the "Pineapple Express."

 

DWR continued business as usual, even as the Trump administration on February 28 denied California's request for $306 million in FEMA disaster relief reimbursement from the 2017 Oroville Dam spillway failure and emergency evacuations.

 

FEMA determined that California was ineligible for Oroville Dam national disaster reimbursement due to its subject matter expert blaming "leakage through cracks and joints of the Gated Spillway" causing high drain outflows that "have been observed for 50 years."  FEMA claimed that management deficiencies over five decades included a "lack of modification of design" and "repeated ineffective and possibly detrimental repairs."

 

DWR's 2017–2018 Operations Plan to repair the dam and adjacent infrastructure was first estimated at $260 million, but the cost ballooned to $1.1 billion in early March 2019.  Despite a multitude of un-bid change orders, continuous water seepage is visibly trickling from the foot and dozens of points on upper dam's main spillway.

 

After DWR inexplicably announced "construction blasting" around Oroville Dam, Paul Preston and a group of concerned residents living in the downstream flood plain filed for an injunction at the Butte County Courthouse to prevent vibrations from blasting causing the earthen dam's "hydrated" soil to become liquefied and cause a catastrophic failure.

 

But with two big rainstorms moving in this week, after 10 inches of rainfall the last four weeks pushed water levels to 845 feet, or just 55 feet from overflowing the dam and creating another crisis, DWR reversed course on March 26 and started notifying regulatory agencies, local law enforcement, and local elected officials:

 

DWR is taking steps to remove construction equipment from the spillway chute to "prepare for use of the main spillway potentially as early as the first week of April."

 

California officials claim that the "main spillway and the emergency spillway are reconstructed and able to handle flows as needed to manage lake levels and provide flood protection for the surrounding communities."  But as a precaution, DWR is installing temporary cameras and lights alongside the Oroville Dam's main spillway "for observational purposes when water begins to flow down the chute."

 

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