Devastating floods are almost annual occurrences in the West and
in California. With the anticipated sea level rise and other
impacts of a changing climate, particularly heavy winter rains,
flood management is increasingly critical in California.
Compounding the issue are man-made flood hazards such as levee
stability and stormwater runoff.
Participants of this tour snaked along the San Joaquin River to
learn firsthand about one of the nation’s largest and most
expensive river restoration projects.
The San Joaquin River was the focus of one of the most
contentious legal battles in California water history,
ending in a 2006 settlement between the federal government,
Friant Water Users Authority and a coalition of environmental
Droughts and floods are both a part of life in California as
2017 has so clearly demonstrated: It took one of the wettest
winters on record to pull the state from the depths of a
five-year drought. The state has invested funds in bulking
up drought and flood protection in the past, but recent events
highlighted the necessity of rejuvenating those efforts.
In a state with such topsy-turvy weather as California, the
ability of forecasters to peer into the vast expanse of the
Pacific Ocean and accurately predict the arrival of storms is a
must to improve water supply reliability and flood management
The problem, according to Jeanine Jones, interstate resources
manager with the state Department of Water Resources, is
that “we have been managing with 20th century
technology with respect to our ability to do weather
Sen. Jim Nielsen, Assemblyman James Gallagher, and members of
the Oroville Dam Coalition are seeking federal assistance on
issues relating to the dam they say need to be resolved. They
met with commissioners of the Federal Energy Regulatory
Commission and representatives for the U.S. Army Corps of
Engineers, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the
Federal Emergency Management Agency.
State Sen. Jim Nielsen, Assemblyman James Gallagher and
Oroville Dam Coalition members are heading to Washington, D.C.,
this week to address what they say are outstanding issues
following the spillway crisis.
The rains that swept into Northern California this weekend from
the Gulf of Alaska didn’t turn out to be as extensive as
forecasters had expected. … Work crews continue to
repair the main spillway and emergency spillways at Oroville
Dam in Butte County, which were heavily damaged in February
during the massive atmospheric river storms that ended
California’s five-year drought.
The Oroville Dam flood control spillway has been fixed.
… In addition, [state Department of Water Resources
Director Grant] Davis said “repairs and updates” are already
being made at some of the 93 other dams around California where
the state ordered intensive inspections in the wake of the
As California moves into rainy season, a growing number of
voices are urging the state to explore getting out of federal
flood insurance and creating its own program. … Among
the loudest proponents of this small version of Calexit is
Nicholas Pinter, a professor at UC Davis and associate director
of its Center for Watershed Sciences.
Crews are laying the last layer of concrete on the Oroville Dam
spillway with one day until the state Department of Water
Resources’ deadline to have the structure ready to pass flows
of 100,000 cubic-feet per second, or cfs.
Even living here on the West Coast, Marion Townsend decided to
act as floods ravaged Texas and hurricanes pounded the
Caribbean in recent weeks. Her Sacramento neighborhood slopes
downward from a levee that separates it from the American
River, in an area that officials concede never should have been
settled but is home to 100,000 residents.
California needs to spend another $100 million a year to keep
the state’s levee system sound, according to state flood
control experts. At a press conference marking flood
preparedness week Monday at a levee repair site near
Sacramento, Bill Edgar, president of the Central Valley Flood
Protection Board said the levees will need a $17 billion to $21
billion investment over the next 30 years to protect the seven
million Californians at flood risk.
The state Department of Water Resources plans to clear mounds
of rock from the Gold Rush days at the Oroville Wildlife Area
and put them to use in the rebuilding of the spillways at
Oroville Dam. DWR received approval from the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission, according to a filing made last week.
Trouble with the Upper Berryessa Creek flood project between
North San Jose and Milpitas continues to work its way
downstream, as a group of residents plan to legally challenge
the Santa Clara Valley Water District and California Department
of Fish and Wildlife in court over “unmitigated” environmental
impacts from the Lower Berryessa Creek project.
The cost of repairing the crippling damage to Oroville Dam’s
spillways caused by last winter’s fierce storms has almost
doubled, state water officials said Thursday. … Jeff
Petersen, project manager for Kiewit, said that once
construction workers got on the site they discovered they had
to dig much deeper to get down to bedrock than they had
In one of the fastest-paced civic construction jobs in recent
U.S. history, hundreds of carpenters, operating engineers and
iron workers are rushing to complete repairs to the damaged
Oroville Dam spillway. The crews are trying to beat a Nov. 1
deadline and the Northern California rainy season, which once
again will begin to fill the massive reservoir behind the
nation’s highest dam.
An unprecedented wave of destructive hurricanes has brought the
long-struggling federal flood insurance program to the brink.
Now Congress faces tough questions about whether to again bail
out the nearly 50-year-old program and how to implement reforms
to make it more sustainable, secure and cost-effective.
A plan has been prepared for flood control operations this
rainy season at Oroville Dam, which call for keeping the lake
lower and aggressively releasing water if the water level rises
above trigger points. Up to now, the dam has been operated
under rules drafted by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1970,
which set a maximum lake surface elevation target of 848.5 feet
above sea level for November through April, and 870.1 feet in
Local governments and nonprofits trying to recover from major
disasters have sometimes learned the hard way that money spent
on protective measures, cleanup and rebuilding is not always
reimbursed by the U.S. government.
Thursday’s package, which the Senate could take up when it
returns next week, includes money for Federal Emergency
Management Agency’s nearly empty Disaster Relief Fund and for
the financially-struggling National Flood Insurance Program.
Something monumental happened on August 25 in California
water management that received almost no media attention: It
became official policy to reconnect the state’s major rivers
with their floodplains. The action by the Central Valley
Flood Protection Board, an obscure panel appointed by the
governor, clears the way for the state to embrace projects that
allow floods to recharge groundwater. … The timing
coincides with two other major state programs.
Next month three Marin Municipal Water District spillways will
undergo an inspection to make sure they are safe in the wake of
the Oroville Dam problems earlier this year. Last week the
district hired Los Angeles-based AECOM to conduct evaluations
of the spillways at the Kent, Nicasio and Soulajule reservoirs
as required by the state Division of Safety of Dams.
As increasingly intense hurricanes batter the Southeast and the
Caribbean, heightening some of the worst fears about a changing
climate, California is facing its own threat of bigger and more
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors of the Water Resources
Agency approved up to $500,000 for state-mandated emergency
repair work to the county-owned Lake San Antonio and Lake
Nacimiento dam spillways dubbed “minimum requirements” to allow
the dam spillways to continue operating, with additional,
classified assessments still being finalized that could result
in further repairs.
After big natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma,
federal officials often tighten up flood protection standards.
That’s what happened in California after Hurricane Katrina
twelve years ago. But many flood-prone communities are still
struggling to meet those standards, including Sacramento, one
of the riskiest flood zones in the country.
The cities of San Francisco and Oakland are suing some of the
world’s largest oil companies over climate change, joining an
emerging legal effort to hold the fossil fuel industry
accountable for the damages wrought by rising seas.
Right now, California may be dealing with more fire than flood,
but there are still important lessons that the state can learn
from Harvey and Irma, says Nicholas Pinter, the associate
director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at the University
of California, Davis. In fact, says Pinter, there are lessons
that the Western United States should learn from flood
management around the country, and the world.
State lawmakers responsible for the safety of residents
downstream from Lake Oroville applaud the Department of Water
Resources reconstruction to the dam’s damaged primary and
emergency spillways, but the lawmakers still want answers and
accountability for the cause of February’s near-catastrophe.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has determined that the
60-year-old Whittier Narrows Dam is structurally unsafe and
poses a potentially catastrophic risk to the working-class
communities along the San Gabriel River floodplain. According
to an agency report based on research conducted last year,
unusually heavy rains could trigger a premature opening of the
dam’s massive spillway.
A single photograph of rapid erosion below Oroville Dam’s
emergency spillway — and an unidentified geologist’s worried
question about whether the local sheriff knew how dire the
situation might be — were the key events that led to the
evacuation of 180,000 people living along the Feather River on
In the confusion and chaos of the emergency at Oroville Dam, as
thousands of residents were being evacuated, public safety
officials and others involved in managing the crisis found
themselves clashing with the people operating the nation’s
A towering spillway at the nation’s tallest dam was crumbling,
and tens of thousands of people were fleeing for their lives.
But as darkness fell, state officials realized dealing with the
unfolding crisis in Northern California was about to get even
worse: They couldn’t see.
No living soul can testify of the winter of 1861-62, when 45
days of rain transformed the Central Valley into a
300-mile-long inland sea. And only some Stocktonians are old
enough to remember the last time the city itself flooded, in
A team investigating the Oroville Dam spillway breach in
February said it has not seen evidence that a comprehensive
review of its construction and design has ever been conducted
since it was built nearly 40 years ago. … Agencies like
the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Shasta Dam, do more
comprehensive construction and design reviews.
A team of independent experts charged Tuesday that the state
and federal officials who inspected Oroville Dam relied too
heavily on visual inspections, ignoring blueprints,
construction records and other documented clues that could have
warned them about the dam’s troubled flood-control spillway
long before it fractured in February. … The forensic
team’s report brought a swift response from Assemblyman James
Gallagher, R-Yuba City, whose constituents were among those
The most detailed report yet on what went wrong at Oroville Dam
last winter when 180,000 people fled amid fears of flooding
found that state and federal officials failed to uncover
long-standing construction and maintenance issues at the
nation’s tallest dam.
The UC Berkeley group analyzing the state Department of Water
Resources’ response to the spillway crisis is still not
satisfied with the department’s explanation for Oroville Dam’s
“green spot” in a report released earlier this week.
Hurricane Harvey is sure to add more crushing debt to the
National Flood Insurance Program, which is already $25 billion
in the red. So when Congress resumes on Tuesday, will it
immediately act to fix this troubled program?
As torrential rains and dangerous flood waters pummel large
swaths of Texas and parts of Louisiana, California lawmakers
are eying legislation to prevent similar damage from from the
state’s own disasters.
The state Department of Water Resources has released a report
on the Oroville Dam’s “green spot,” declaring the extensive
area of persistent moisture on the face of the dam is due to
seasonally trapped rainfall and poses no threat to the dam’s
Two weeks before Harvey’s flood waters engulfed much of
Houston, President Donald Trump quietly rolled back an order by
his predecessor that would have made it easier for
storm-ravaged communities to use federal emergency aid to
rebuild bridges, roads and other structures so they can better
withstand future disasters. … [Former President Barack]
Obama’s now-defunct order also revamped Federal Flood Risk
Management Standards, calling for tighter restrictions on new
construction in flood-prone areas.
Taxpayers have spent billions of dollars on dams, levees and
bypasses to keep Sacramento and other Central Valley towns and
cities from flooding, but experts say the infrastructure would
prove no match for a megastorm like the one that pummeled
Houston this week.
The devastation Hurricane Harvey has wrought in southeastern
Texas has brought new focus to the National Flood Insurance
Program — and to a pending Republican effort to restructure and
partially privatize an industry that has been effectively
subsidized with tens of billions of federal taxpayer dollars.
Tropical Storm Harvey has dumped 15 trillion gallons of water
on southeastern Texas. Scientists warn that with climate
change, future storms will be wetter and more intense – that
includes in California.
After more than a century of building levees higher to hold
back its rivers, California took another step Friday toward a
flood-control policy that aims to give raging rivers more room
to spread out instead.
The Oroville City Council fired off a critical letter to the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, criticizing how the
Department of Water Resources operates Oroville Dam and
demanding a host of changes.
Construction at the Lake Oroville spillways is on schedule to
meet a Nov. 1 deadline for this year’s repairs, according to
the Department of Water Resources. The department has passed
the midway point on its construction timeline for this year’s
repairs on the main spillway, which was badly damaged during
high February releases.
President Donald Trump said Tuesday he has signed a new
executive order intended to make more efficient the federal
permitting process for construction of transportation, water
and other infrastructure projects without harming the
The failure of the Oroville spillway in February led people to
notice a large green spot on Lake Oroville’s dam. The spot has
been there for years, but the questions remain as to whether
it’s a sign the dam is leaking.
Federal disaster officials have agreed to chip in $22.8 million
to help California pay the estimated $500 million cost of the
Oroville Dam crisis. … Department of Water Resources
spokeswoman Erin Mellon said Wednesday during a biweekly
conference call with reporters that she expects more money to
come the state’s way.
Consider a couple of scenarios for big trouble at Oroville Dam:
First: The facility’s main concrete spillway suffers serious
damage, resulting in erosion of the rock beneath it — and
potentially threatening the safety of the dam itself.
Friday is the deadline to file a claim with the state
government to have a chance of being reimbursed for damages
suffered during the Oroville Dam spillway emergency. …
Residents may be eligible to receive money to compensate for
travel expenses, damage to property, and loss of salary or
One week before the deadline to formally seek payment from the
state of California for damages stemming from the Oroville
Dam’s spillway failure this year, the state has received 93
claims worth a combined $1.1 billion.
Six months ago, relentless winter storms dumped nearly 13
inches of rain in four days on the Sierra Foothills, tearing an
enormous hole in the spillway at Oroville Dam, the nation’s
highest, and leading to an unprecedented emergency that
prompted the evacuation of 188,000 people from nearby towns.
Today, what could have been ground zero for America’s worst dam
disaster is now a hotbed of construction activity.
The heavy work is now underway on emergency repairs to the
nearly 3 miles of levee protecting the heart of Yuba City. The
Sutter Butte Flood Control Agency received federal approval
Tuesday night to proceed wth the work.
Drone video released by the California Department of Water
Resources shows how repairs are moving along at the Oroville
Dam’s main spillway, which crumbled during the extremely wet
winter and forced the evacuation of 180,000 people.
California officials have ordered owners of 93 dams to
reinspect their flood-control spillways following the Oroville
Dam crisis, including seven in eastern Fresno County…. Large
dams on the list include New Exchequer, which creates Lake
McClure on the Merced River, and Don Pedro Dam on the Tuolumne
River, which contains the sixth-largest reservoir in
California officials have ordered owners of 93 dams to
reinspect their flood-control spillways following the Oroville
Dam crisis, saying the spillways need a closer look following a
preliminary review. The list released by the Department of
Water Resources includes some of the largest dams in
California, such as the New Exchequer Dam on the Merced River,
New Bullards Bar on the Yuba River, and Lake Almanor Dam on the
Feather River in Plumas County.
Officials in charge of repairing the damaged spillways at Lake
Oroville said they’ve received the needed authorization from
state and federal agencies for 2017 construction plans.
The plan now is to continue preparing the demolished main
spillway for concrete to be poured over the next few weeks.
Work to strengthen Oroville Dam, shore up downstream levees and
other types of flood-prevention projects would be eligible for
fast-tracked state approval under new California legislation
lawmakers will consider when they return from summer recess
One of the country’s foremost experts on catastrophic
engineering failures released a new report Thursday on the
troubled Oroville Dam that asks a disturbing question: Is the
country’s tallest dam leaking?
State water resources officials and federal regulators caused
the failure of the Oroville Dam spillway in February by
ignoring long-established guidelines and neglecting their duty
to manage risks and detect flaws, a scathing report by a
Berkeley engineering expert concluded Thursday.
Construction work on a portion of the Marysville Ring Levee –
deemed by a federal agency as the “weakest link” in the city’s
levees – began earlier this month along Highway 70. …
John Nicoletti, a levee commissioner for Marysville, said the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has assessed the ring levee and
found that Binney Junction is the city’s most vulnerable point.
For the first time in more than six months, no federally
monitored rivers in California or Nevada are flooding or at
risk of flooding, according to climate scientists. From Jan. 4
to July 15, at least one California or Nevada river fed by the
Sierra Nevada was at or above flood monitoring stage, following
a historically wet winter.
Congress is considering sweeping changes to the debt-laden
National Flood Insurance Program that could jack up flood
insurance rates for hundreds of thousands of homeowners under a
bill that a Florida real estate group called “devastating.”
In its eighth memorandum released Thursday, the independent
board analyzing the redesign of the Oroville Dam spillways
commends the construction contractor’s work and makes slight
tweaks to former recommendations.
Trails, roads and campgrounds throughout the Sierra high
country were hit hard by snow and runoff from one of the
largest snowpacks in recorded history, leaving public agencies
scrambling and summer visitors feeling lost.
The state Department of Water Resources has filed a request
with the Federal Energy Commission to demolish and reconstruct
an additional 240 feet of the main Oroville Dam spillway upper
chute this season. The purpose of the change is to ensure the
reconstruction can be complete in two seasons, per a recent
The Department of Water Resources have asked federal regulators
to let it demolish and replace an additional 240 feet of the
spillway’s 3,000-foot concrete chute before the rains comes
this fall, leaving less work for next year.
Nearly 80 days after winning the bid to fix the disastrous
Oroville Dam spillways, the contractor Kiewit offered the Chico
Enterprise-Record and Oroville Mercury-Register Friday a
close-up view of construction efforts.
The preliminaries are just about over. Permanent structural
repairs are about to begin at Oroville Dam. Five months after
an unprecedented emergency forced a mass evacuation, state
officials said Wednesday they’re ready to start replacing the
now-demolished lower portions of Oroville’s main flood-control
Anyone who contemplated the wreckage of the Oroville Dam’s main
spillway back in February — either while water was pounding
down the shattered concrete structure or when the flow was
stopped later and the enormity of the damage was fully visible
— probably had this thought cross their mind: “That is going to
be tough to fix.”
Facing a crisis after a huge crater formed in the main
flood-control spillway at Oroville Dam, officials at the
California Department of Water Resources called in an old hand
to help: David Gutierrez, a nationally known engineer who had
just retired as chief of the agency’s dam-safety division.
Inside a cavernous northern Utah warehouse, hydraulic engineers
send water rushing down a replica of a dam built out of wood,
concrete and steel – trying to pinpoint what repairs will work
best at the tallest dam in the U.S for a spillway torn apart in
February during heavy rains that triggered the evacuation of
200,000 people living downstream.
The flooding is the result of more than a week of high
temperatures that have rapidly melted mountain snow, filling
Pine Flat Reservoir and prompting the Army Corps of Engineers
to send a surge of water into the Kings River to make room for
more runoff behind the dam. The river surge tested levees along
the Kings in a way some residents has never expected.
Water releases from Pine Flat Dam were ratcheted up Thursday as
federal officials worked to prevent the reservoir from
overtopping the dam. … Crews from Kings County and
the Kings River Conservation District responded to a
small breach in a levee on the south fork of the Kings River
between Grangville and Highway 198.
Work at the Oroville Dam will carry on in spite of the 110
degree-plus temperatures anticipated this week. There are
protections in place for construction employees with the
contractor, Kiewit, and concrete has to undergo a cooling
techniques to be able to keep applying it, said Jeff Petersen,
the company’s project director in a press conference call
The rush of workers and heavy machinery to the shore of Lake
Oroville is so vast and unfamiliar it’s fanning rumors across
this rural region that the ruckus couldn’t just be for a
historic dam repair. … But as state officials gave The
Chronicle a tour last week of the construction site, they said
the effort was both extensive and relatively straightforward.
Fresh off the Oroville Dam crisis, California lawmakers on
Thursday voted to make dam-safety plans secret through language
that was quietly inserted into a budget-related bill. The
legislation, which requires Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature before
becoming law, says emergency action plans at dams would be kept
confidential to “protect public safety.”
In February, damage to the spillway of the dam on Lake Oroville
in Butte County, California, and erosion under the dam’s
emergency spillway threatened to send billions of gallons of
water cascading through dozens of California communities.
The dam did not collapse, but the damage to the spillway and
the emergency spillway was enormous.
This weekend the water level in Isabella Lake is expected to
reach — and maybe even exceed — the restricted pool allowed by
the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. And that means it might be
time for residents who reside below the lake’s troubled dam to
review their risks.
Concerned Trinity Dam could suffer the same fate as Oroville
Dam — which had a near catastrophic failure this past
winter — the Trinity County Board of Supervisors on
Tuesday agreed to continue to pursue getting an emergency
spillway built on the dam.
Even as President Donald Trump has announced his intention for
the U.S. to withdraw from a global climate agreement, many of
the nation’s river communities are responding to climate change
by raising or replacing bridges that suddenly seem too low to
stay safely above water.
The helicopters alone cost more than $100,000 a day at one
point. Weeks of dredging debris ran to more than $22 million.
And on the day after the massive evacuation, as the crisis was
peaking, the state spent $3,902 on breakfasts and lunches for
If you’re expecting a quick and easy answer on what caused the
spillway failure at Oroville Dam, think again. The leader of
the independent forensics team studying the Oroville crisis
said Thursday that the crack in the dam’s main flood-control
spillway likely was caused by a combination of problems.
The Enterprise-Record/Oroville Mercury-Record got its closest
look so far Wednesday at the Oroville Dam spillway work on a
site visit hosted by the state Department of Water Resources.
… The visit included an hour-long meeting in a conference
room at DWR’s Oroville headquarters, and a trip to catch a view
of lower spillway blasting around 12:30 p.m. followed by access
to the structure above the spillway.
AB 646, which has passed two committees and could go to the
Assembly floor next week, would require landlords throughout
California to provide written notification to those renting in
“a special flood hazard area or an area of potential flooding.”
President Donald Trump made rebuilding the nation’s
infrastructure a major job-creating campaign pledge. But while
his first big federal budget proposal has $200 billion for that
purpose, most of it won’t be available until late 2018 and
Three months after Coyote Creek overflowed its banks and
caused $100 million in damage to homes and businesses in San
Jose, a flood control project straddling the city’s northern
edges with Milpitas may be in danger of being shut down because
of red tape. …
Federal dam regulators are reevaluating how they conduct dam
inspections in the wake of the Oroville Dam spillway crisis,
and they’ve ordered the nation’s dam operators to thoroughly
inspect their facilities to see “if they have a potential
Oroville waiting to happen,” a federal dam inspector said
State officials plan to stop releasing water down the mangled
main spillway at Oroville Dam on Friday, allowing workers to
begin months of round-the-clock repairs to the chute and to an
emergency spillway that is also badly damaged.
A hole in the concrete spillway chute of the Oroville Dam first
made itself known 100 days ago. How it got there is still a
mystery, as is what it will cost to fix the resulting damage
and whether a fix will be in place in time for the next rainy
The deaths of five people in two Tulare County rivers in less
than a month are prompting officials to warn the public about
the dangers of rushing water fed by the heavy snowpack now
melting in the Sierra. “Stay away from the river’s edge, and
don’t enter the water,” said Tulare County Sheriff Mike
America’s tallest dam was built from earth, stone and concrete
– and the towering ambition of Gov. Pat Brown. Sixty years
before a crisis at Oroville Dam sent thousands fleeing for
their lives in February, the late governor brought an almost
evangelical zeal to erecting the structure that would hold back
the Feather River to deliver water to the parched southern half
of the state.
Trouble had been developing at the Oroville Dam and the main
spillway had been shut down; water started flowing over the
emergency spillway and the hillside below it started
disintegrating at an alarming rate. Late afternoon on Feb. 12,
evacuation orders were issued. By most people’s accounts, it
didn’t go well.
If a fresh look had been taken at Oroville Dam — any time
between 50 years ago and last year — could the breakup of the
spillway have been avoided? Is enough being done to ensure that
work done today will keep the communities downstream of the dam
safe? Should the Department of Water Resources remain in charge
of the dam in the future?
The amount of money Donald Trump’s administration reimburses
California for repairs to Oroville Dam could depend on whether
the state properly maintained the dam’s spillway prior to it
crumbling this winter, a state water official told lawmakers
As in most of the other community meetings the Department of
Water Resources has conducted about the Oroville Dam spillway
crisis, staff members Tuesday night offered profuse apologies
and community members voiced distrust. … Many of those who
stood to speak said they or their families had also been
present for the floods of the past (1955, 1986, 1997).
There’s more debris in the water at the Oroville Dam Diversion
Pool than initially thought, and state Department of Water
Resources officials now don’t expect to complete dredging and
hauling of debris by December. DWR is seeking bids for the
The massive failure of the Oroville Dam’s main spillway in
February involved two dozen potential design and maintenance
problems, including thin concrete, inadequate reinforcing steel
and weaknesses in the foundation, a panel of engineering
experts reported Wednesday.
In a report released Wednesday, engineers assigned to
investigate the February failure of Oroville Dam’s main
spillway cited a variety of flaws in the 3,000-foot-long
structure, including variations in the thickness of the
concrete slabs, poor drainage beneath the spillway, improperly
filled cracks and signs of inadequate maintenance.
California is putting communities downstream in danger of
flooding with the way it runs the now-crippled Oroville Dam,
mayors and county leaders wrote this week in a strongly worded
letter to Gov. Jerry Brown.
The melting of this year’s record snowpack is continuing to
create problems, with authorities warning of more flooding in
Yosemite National Park and fast-moving, high water at a popular
Central Valley river.
California is borrowing up to $500 million to pay for the
crisis at Oroville Dam, although it expects to be reimbursed
for its costs. … Kiewit Corp. of Omaha, Neb., has won a
$275.4 million contract for the repairs, which are expected to
take two years.
California is asking the federal government to pay 75 percent
of the hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs to the badly
damaged spillways at the nation’s tallest dam, a state water
agency spokeswoman said Monday.
The independent board overseeing the repair of the damage main
Oroville Dam spillway has recommended the state Department of
Water Resources change its priorities and focus on the damaged
bottom chute rather than the top.
Outside consultants agree with the state’s plan to spend the
next two summers replacing sections of Oroville Dam’s still
largely intact upper spillway rather than trying to tear it all
out in one season. But the public can’t see the recommendations
the independent board of consultants gave the Department of
Water Resources to ensure the work is safe and sound.
High temperatures put the Merced River in Yosemite National
Park over flood stage on Thursday as snow from higher
elevations melted and flowed into the river’s basin. But most
Central California reservoirs, preparing for the warmer weather
and melting snowpack throughout the Sierra, have excess
capacity to handle such runoff.
The rain has largely stopped after one of the wettest winters
in California. But as spring temperatures begin to climb and
snow in the Sierra Nevada melts, the threat of flooding has
communities across the Central Valley on edge. … The
concerns are magnified in some areas by subsidence, a festering
problem exacerbated by five years of drought in the Central
Cindy Messer apologized Tuesday to several hundred grim
Oroville residents who had been ordered to run from their homes
three months earlier. They sat rigidly in their seats inside
the Oroville Municipal Auditorium at the first public meeting
Messer’s agency, the Department of Water Resources, has hosted
in Oroville since the February crisis at the dam.
Will there be a viewing platform where the public can watch
work being done on the Oroville spillway? That’s the plan,
according to Cindy Messer, Chief Deputy Director of the
Department of Water Resources.
The Stanislaus River charged at well above its typical May
volume as Lucas Huffman launched his kayak Tuesday at Knights
Ferry. … The central part of the [Sierra Nevada] range
has had near-record rain and snow. Temperatures have spiked
past 90 degrees, and the snowmelt has sped up.
State officials on Monday reported a near-record May snowpack,
but the bountiful winter that demolished California’s five-year
drought is now increasing the risk of late spring flooding, as
temperatures climb across the Sierra Nevada.
Water experts say the heavy spring runoff will likely continue
until summer, testing California’s flood management efforts in
what is a delicate balance between keeping enough water behind
dams to prevent downstream surges and releasing enough to make
space for the incoming melt.
Deep in the Trinity Alps, 130 miles northwest of the troubled
Oroville Dam, local officials are raising alarms about another
earthen dam with documented weaknesses and limited capacity for
releasing the water that has poured in from storms and melting
A power industry consulting firm has proposed a design for the
Oroville Dam spillways which involves not repairing the current
one, but building a new, wider spillway. … Kenneth Viney,
manager of CoastalGen Inc., based in Napa, filed suggestions
Monday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the impact on your lives,” Bill
Croyle told a crowd of more than 250 people at the Butte County
Fairgrounds. Croyle, the acting director of the Department of
Water Resources, answered questions and listened Thursday
evening as people stepped up to a microphone and were heard
during the first of the water agency’s community meetings about
the Oroville Dam spillway disaster and evacuations.
California officials are keeping another document on the
Oroville Dam recovery sealed from public view but promise to
release a redacted version within a week. The Department of
Water Resources filed an update Thursday from the outside
consultants advising DWR on Oroville repairs.
Two experts weighed in on the memos that the Board of
Consultants assessing the current operations and future
spillway options sent to the Department of Water Resources. …
A former engineer who reviews disasters and a Chico State
University engineering professor reviewed the memos and talked
to this newspaper about their questions, comments and concerns.
Rivers were swift and wide this winter with heavy storms adding
up to the wettest winter in 122 years. People who have lived in
the Sacramento Valley for decades remember flooding from their
youth, when towns were evacuated, homes were lost and topsoil
Members of the state Senate Natural Resources and Water
Committee, at an hourlong oversight hearing on the Oroville
crisis, questioned Secretary John Laird, the head of the
Department of Water Resources and Natural Resources, on the
specifications of the $275 million contract awarded earlier
this month to Kiewit Corp. of Omaha, Neb., to fix the dam’s two
For the first time since the Lake Oroville spillway crisis
began, members of the state Legislature peppered key water
leaders with questions about what happened, what will happen
next and what can be learned from it all.
The head of California’s water agency on Tuesday repeated his
assertion that an emergency spillway at the Oroville Dam
worked, drawing an incredulous response from a state lawmaker
who represents tens of thousands of people ordered to evacuate
when it was feared erosion at the spillway could lead to
A pair of crippled spillways at Oroville Dam can be repaired in
part by November, but a good deal of the work will probably
have to be done after the next rainy season, according to
reports by an independent panel of experts.
The damage has been done and the repair contract awarded. …
How much will be the responsibility of homeowners, businesses,
farmers and other customers of the more than two dozen local
and regional agencies that contract with the State Water
Official reports released Monday say the catastrophic damage to
Oroville Dam’s main spillway probably stemmed from swift water
flows under the concrete chute, which was cracked and of uneven
Responding to criticism about secrecy around the Oroville Dam
repair effort, California officials released two redacted
reports Monday from outside engineers consulting on plans to
fix the dam’s battered spillways.
Citing the near disaster at Oroville Dam, a group of
congressional Democrats is pushing the government’s watchdog
agency to investigate federal oversight of dam safety
regulations. … Separately, the California state Senate
Natural Resources and Water Committee will hold an oversight
hearing on Oroville next Tuesday [April 25].
A disaster expert’s review of the Oroville Dam spillway
emergency says the Department of Water Resources could have
prevented everything with better design, better construction
and better maintenance. Robert Bea prepared the report
A coalition of environmental groups that had warned Oroville
Dam’s emergency spillway was fatally flawed long before it
nearly washed away this winter is demanding that federal
regulators open up dam repair plans for public vetting.
Late in the afternoon of Feb. 12, Sheriff Kory Honea was at the
emergency operations center for the tallest dam in America when
he overheard someone say something that stopped him in his
tracks: “This is not good.”
As state officials clamp down on records at Oroville Dam, one
of the country’s foremost experts on catastrophic engineering
failures has used state inspection reports, photographs and
historical design specifications to piece together an autopsy
detailing why the spillway at the country’s tallest dam failed
so spectacularly this winter.
California water officials Monday awarded a $275 million
contract to repair the troubled Oroville Dam to a subsidiary of
one of the world’s largest construction companies that is
headquartered in Omaha, Nebraska.
Design flaws, construction shortcomings and maintenance errors
caused the Oroville Dam spillway to break apart in February,
according to an independent analysis by Robert Bea for the
Center for Catastrophic Risk Analysis at UC Berkeley.
State officials have reopened the damaged spillway at Oroville
Dam as another set of rainstorms began moving across Northern
California. … Water will continue pouring down the spillway
for up to two weeks, depending on how much more rain falls.
California’s top water official said Thursday he’s considering
releasing redacted copies of safety and progress reports at the
troubled Oroville Dam after his office had tried to keep them
secret because of terrorism concerns.
With stormy weather approaching, state water managers announced
Thursday they will resume releasing water down a damaged
spillway at the nation’s tallest dam. The badly eroded main
spillway at California’s Oroville Dam hasn’t been used since
It’s not just the residents of Oroville, Gridley and Yuba City
who are frustrated with the Department of Water Resources’ lack
of transparency concerning the Oroville Dam spillways. Two
California legislators who represent those living downstream
from the dam are also upset that they aren’t getting answers.
… The state Senate’s Natural Resources Committee has a
hearing scheduled at 9 a.m. April 25 that will go over what
happened with the Oroville Dam spillway.
A state-commissioned report on climate change released
Wednesday raises the stakes for fighting global warming,
offering a clearer and, in some cases, more catastrophic
picture of how much sea levels will rise in California.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration is using federal security
regulations written to thwart terrorism to deny public access
to records that experts say could guide repairs to the Oroville
Dam and provide insight into what led to the near catastrophic
failure of its emergency spillway.
The Manteca Unified School District must pay to fund local
levee improvements, just like any other property owner in the
area, an appeals court has found. One attorney says the
decision is good news for the small levee districts across the
Delta charged with protecting farms and cities from floods.
California’s Dept. of Water Resources has announced a
fast-track plan to replace the shattered spillways at Oroville
Dam — at least partially — by November 1, when the rainy season
is expected to resume. Meanwhile, engineers at Oroville Dam are
drilling cores and conducting geological studies, hoping to
better understand February’s near-catastrophic spillway
California officials on Thursday announced an ambitious plan to
increase the size of Lake Oroville’s damaged main spillway,
allowing it to release nearly twice as much water, as they seek
to rebuild the 3,000-foot-long concrete chute that gave way
State officials sketched a two-year recovery plan Thursday for
the battered Oroville Dam spillway, revealing a blueprint
that’s far from complete, still in need of a price tag and
certain to leave the structure partially damaged as the next
rainy season approaches.
The Department of Water Resources can operate the Oroville Dam
project in an emergency capacity until Aug. 24. The U.S. Army
Corps of Engineers approved an emergency permit for the state
water agency Feb. 24, and it is good for six months.
Since the Oroville Dam spillway incident highlighted flaws in
the current system, Yuba-Sutter officials are in the process of
revising evacuation plans. Both Yuba and Sutter counties have
been gathering information from the public regarding the
February evacuation and plan on using the situation as a
Citing potential security risks, state and federal officials
are blocking the public’s ability to review documents that
could shed light on repair plans and safety issues at crippled
Oroville Dam. … The secrecy on the part of state dam
operators prompted state Sen. Jim Nielsen to call for an
immediate oversight hearing.
It’s a race against time this spring as water roars out of
Central California’s dams and rumbles its way to the
lowest-lying areas of the western San Joaquin Valley,
communities where land is collapsing and water channels are
growing more unstable. State engineers are generating new maps
to understand where water is stagnating in spots it once flowed
freely, and to learn which communities are in the most danger
President Donald Trump announced Sunday more than a
half-billion dollars would be coming to California to help
cover the damage from the winter storms, including $274 million
for repairs to the Oroville Dam spillway. The fulfillment of
the fourth presidential declaration for damage from the winter
storms totals an estimated $540 million.
The state Department of Water Resources gave the overseeing
federal agency of the Oroville Dam what it asked for last week
— a schedule for the independent review team investigating the
cause of the spillway failures, but it listed no deadline for a
final report from the team.
After millions of dollars of flood damage and mass evacuations
this year, California is grappling with how to update its aging
flood infrastructure. That has some calling for a new approach
to flood control – one that mimics nature instead of trying to
As snow continued to fall on the eastern Sierra Nevada on
Monday, platoons of earth movers, cranes and utility trucks
fanned out across the Owens Valley, scrambling to empty
reservoirs and clean out a lattice-work of ditches and
pipelines in a frantic effort to protect the key source of Los
The operators of Oroville Dam acknowledged Monday they might
not be able to permanently repair the dam’s battered main
spillway in time for the next rainy season, but said they’re
confident the fractured structure will be usable.
California’s top water manager said Monday that the
problem-plagued Oroville Reservoir will have a new spillway in
place to prevent potentially dangerous outflows of water in
time for the next rainy season.
More than a month after Coyote Creek spilled its banks and
flooded surrounding neighborhoods, city leaders Thursday said
some 500 families remain unable to return home and pleaded with
property owners to help house them.
The main spillway at Oroville Dam is riddled with design flaws
and so badly damaged that an independent panel of experts hired
by the state has concluded it’s probably impossible to repair
the structure completely before the next rainy season begins in
Safety experts say there is no time for delay in a state plan
to restore the 770-foot Oroville Dam, and they warn California
would face a “very significant risk” if a damaged spillway is
not in working order by fall, the start of the next rainy
While a nearly record-breaking rainy season has battered
California’s dams and stretched the limits of local levees, the
storms that began to hit Sacramento on Tuesday aren’t expected
to put much additional strain on the state’s flood-control
[Los Angeles] Mayor Eric Garcetti proclaimed a state of
emergency Monday, citing concerns that melting snowpack in the
eastern Sierra Nevada could flood homes and highways in the
Owens Valley and damage the Los Angeles Aqueduct.