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Rain Could Press Oroville Spillway into Service

Friday, April 6, 2018

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The partially rebuilt main spillway at California’s Oroville Dam could be put into service as soon as this week as heavy rainstorms are set to hit the region and the lake is approaching its trigger elevation.

The California Department of Water Resources, which oversees operations at the dam, said Wednesday (April 4) that it would be increasing outflows at the Hyatt Powerplant in anticipation of the rising waters in the coming days. The power plant outflows had been at 9,500 cubic feet per second, but were increased throughout the day Wednesday to 13,000 cfs.

Potential Use

According to the DWR’s winter operations plan for this year—in the midst of the two-year repair and rehabilitation of the dam’s spillways after last year’s crisis—the spillway could be used when the lake reaches 830 feet in elevation. As of Wednesday, it was at 794 feet.

Oroville Dam spillway
Kelly M. Grow / California DWR

The newly repaired main spillway at California's Oroville Dam could be pressed into service in the coming days if heavy rains materialize as expected.

The National Weather Service is calling for up to 1 inch of rain today (April 6) and an additional 1 to 2 inches overnight.

The DWR says the reconstructed main spillway can handle outflows of up to 100,000 cfs, though temporary sections constructed with roller-compacted concrete could create more turbulence and experience more wear than structural concrete segments.

The DWR will be closely monitoring the spillway if it is used.

Dam Crisis

The dam’s main spillway suffered concrete damage that led to its closure in February 2017 during a period of extreme rainfall. An emergency spillway was used for the first time during the crisis and caused hillside erosion that threatened the stability of the concrete weir holding the water back. More  than 200,000 residents downstream in the Feather River valley were evacuated for fear of an uncontrolled release.

A team of engineers hired to analyze the root cause of the failure cited an “inadequate priority for dam safety” and said the DWR had been “somewhat overconfident and complacent regarding the integrity of its civil infrastructure.” The DWR has been sued by residents and by the city of Oroville over the crisis.


Tagged categories: concrete; Government; Infrastructure; Locks and dams; NA; North America; Program/Project Management

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