Oroville Dam Spillway Crisis

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Image credit: Thomas L. Sheehy ‏@sheehytl

The South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) commends all the public safety officials who responded quickly and valiantly during the evacuation of the Oroville area and the communities along the Feather River corridor on Sunday, February 12. Our hearts go out 180,000+ people who fled their homes because of the flash flood danger caused by the eroding unarmored spillway. We also commend and thank the agencies, fairgrounds, schools, churches and community centers who opened their doors to accommodate thousands of displaced families.

Although the evacuation orders were reduced on Tuesday, February 14, the multiple storm systems rolling through our region starting today, Friday the 17th, mean that our neighbors in the flood danger zones are still on high alert, and could be asked to move to higher ground again.

Caleb Dardick, executive director of SYRCL, said, “The Oroville Dam spillway situation is extremely concerning. Once the danger has passed, we expect that the appropriate officials will provide a full analysis. We’re in a new normal: climate change and extreme flood events will make unprecedented demands on our flood control system and waterways. We need science-based leadership for the sake of public safety and sustainable river management in Northern California.”

“Right now, all our efforts should focus on keeping our community safe. Later we will have time to ask hard questions and we hope that our state and federal officials, environmental groups and other community groups will come together to support one another in seeking answers.”

Friends of the River (FOR), the Sierra Club and SYRCL have been mentioned in numerous articles as the environmental groups that, in 2005, raised the red flag about the safety deficiencies of the dam’s backup spillway.

What happened in 2005?

SYRCL joined FOR and the Sierra Club in filing a motion to intervene in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC’s) relicensing of Oroville Dam. Citing the potential erosion issues at the unarmored, ungated spillway—that it did not meet FERC’s Engineering Guidelines—our coalition requested FERC to require the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to “armor or otherwise reconstruct the ungated spillway and to make any other needed modifications so that the licensee (DWR) can safely and confidently conduct required surcharge operations consistent with the Corps of Engineers Oroville Dam Reservoir Regulation Manual.”  (page 9, Motion to Intervene — see below)

According to Jason Rainey, SYRCL’s former executive director, “In late 2005 staff and Board at SYRCL deliberated thoughtfully… and ultimately we made the right decision to join FOR and Sierra Club on this: standing up for public safety and downstream communities on the Feather River.”

SYRCL has a long history with this issue. As members of the Yuba Feather Workgroup from 2001, SYRCL, the Sierra Club, and FOR were engaged in the FERC process about Oroville Dam in order to improve flood control, trying to make our communities safer.

Updates & News:

YubaNet continues to follow the situation and is an excellent resource for updates.

What is happening at the Oroville Dam? (Mercury News, February 14, 2017)

In Peril at Oroville Dam, a Parable on Infrastructure (News York Times, February 13, 2017)

Oroville Dam California officials ignored warnings a decade ago (CNN, February 13, 2017)

Spillway threat asserted: A state agency seeks relicensing to run Oroville Dam, but a challenge sees design flaws this story was originally published on November 27, 2005 (Sacramento Bee, February 13, 2017)

OrovilleDam: Feds and State Officials Ignored Warnings 12 Years Ago PDF (Mercury News, February 12, 2017)

Motion to Intervene For a New Major License Oroville Division, State Water Facilities “Oroville Facilities” (Friends of the River, Sierra Club, South Yuba River Citizens League October 17, 2005)

Lake Oroville surges over emergency spillway for first time in history (FishSniffer, February 11, 2017)

Briefing: Oroville’s Unarmored Auxiliary Spillway Major Risks (California Water Research, February 10, 2017

Oroville Dam spillway hole, California – February 9, 2017. Credit: Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water Resources
Oroville Dam water release on February 10, 2017. Credit: Brian Baer/ California Department of Water Resources

Media Contacts:

Ronald Stork, Senior Policy Staff, Friends of the River, (916) 442-3155 ext. 220, rstork@friendsoftheriver.org

Deirdre Des Jardins, Principal, California Water Research, (831) 423-6857

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