Oroville Dam is the centerpiece and largest water storage
facility of the State Water Project. Located about 70 miles north
of Sacramento at the Feather River confluence, Oroville Dam
creates a reservoir that can hold 3.5 million acre-feet of water.
Features such as a fish barrier dam and pool at Oroville Dam made
the SWP one of the first major water projects built with
environmental protections as a major consideration.
Besides storing water, the dam also protects downstream residents
from the floodprone Feather River—the main feeder of the SWP— and
provides major water recreation facilities such as boating,
fishing and camping.
On the 90th anniversary of the catastrophic failure of the St.
Francis Dam, dam safety experts worry that the Oroville Dam
crisis showed that some of those crucial lessons have been
forgotten — or were never retained in the first place.
California Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Monday that
seeks to beef up dam inspections following a near disaster that
caused the evacuation of almost 200,000 people living
downstream from the tallest one in the United States. The
measure implements several recommendations from experts who
reviewed the crisis at Oroville Dam last year.
Though the final phase of repair work on the main spillway at
Lake Oroville is now on the back burner until spring,
Department of Water Resources officials said crews are making
significant progress on repairing the emergency spillway.
Until February 2017, the calls that came to Butte 2-1-1 ranged
from quelling stress, and finding support organizations, to
locating low-cost diapers. But for a few weeks after the
Oroville Dam spillway disaster, the calls were desperate,
seeking evacuation routes, hunting for surviving relatives, and
wondering when residents could return home.
Assemblyman James Gallagher rounded up a group of bipartisan
legislators to visit Oroville on Thursday, where they met with
community members and toured the now-infamous dam.
Representatives of districts ranging from southern to northern
California came to better understand the place where the
evacuation of about 188,000 people occurred just over a year
Locals who lost business or saw their property value decrease
because of the Oroville Dam crisis are anxious to be reimbursed
through a class action lawsuit filed last week. … There
is a variety of plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit,
including a child care facility, a water ski shop, a ranch and
A year ago, nearly 200,000 Northern California residents were
alarmed by an alert from the state Department of Water
Resources informing them of the potential failure of the
auxiliary spillway at the Oroville Dam. … Everything
department officials do at the Oroville Dam affects our [state
Sen. Jim Nielsen] community — from the water level to the
One year after the worst structural failures at a major U.S.
dam in a generation, federal regulators who oversee
California’s half-century-old, towering Oroville Dam say they
are looking hard at how they overlooked its built-in weaknesses
Butte County District Attorney Michael Ramsey has filed a
lawsuit against the California Department of Water Resources
seeking $34 billion to $51 billion in civil penalties for
environmental damage following the failure of the Oroville Dam
spillways last February.
Butte County prosecutors are seeking up to $51 billion in fines
and penalties against California’s water agency for damage
caused to local river-based wildlife after the Oroville dam
spillway failure last year, officials said.
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey announced Wednesday
that his office filed a lawsuit against the state Department of
Water Resources for environmental damages to the Feather River
as a result of the Oroville Dam crisis.
Nine individuals or entities from Yuba-Sutter are suing the
California Department of Water Resources for more than $27
million in damages suffered as a consequence of the Lake
Oroville spillway crisis last February.
Last winter, California’s Democratic leaders were feeling
cautiously optimistic that they could work with President
Donald Trump to spur desperately needed infrastructure
investment in the state. One year into the Trump
administration, the prospects for bipartisan partnership on the
issue have dimmed.
Oroville Dam’s battered flood-control spillways have been
largely rebuilt, but the cost of last February’s near-disaster
keeps rising. On Friday, state officials put the total price
tag at $870 million.
Local leaders are pressing the state Department of Water
Resources for details on how residents will be involved in the
community needs assessment. Department officials have said that
constructing additional infrastructure at Oroville Dam,
including a second gated spillway and a fully lined emergency
spillway, would be considered as part of the assessment.
The state Department of Water Resources could have lost control
of the spillway radial gates for days during the Oroville Dam
crisis if crucial power lines had gone down, according to
department officials. DWR leaders Cindy Messer and Joel Ledesma
stated this Jan. 10 during a legislative oversight hearing on
the dam at the State Capitol.
After a 5-month stint running California’s Department of Water
Resources, Grant Davis was reappointed Tuesday to his prior job
as general manager of the Sonoma County Water Agency. The Board
of Supervisors, acting as directors of the Water Agency,
unanimously agreed to reinstate Davis, commending him as a
trusted leader with a proven track record in the area.
An investigation into last winter’s near catastrophe at
Oroville Dam uncovered a litany of problems with how the dam
was built and maintained, but one of them stands out: Even as
workers built the dam, they were raising alarms about the
eroded, crumbling rock on which they were directed to lay
concrete for the 3,000-foot-long main flood control spillway.
The city of Oroville filed a lawsuit against the state
Department of Water Resources Wednesday which alleges
fabricated maintenance reports, racial discrimination and
decades of mismanagement led to the Oroville Dam spillway
failure last February.
Signaling what could be a wave of lawsuits arising from last
year’s spillway crisis, the city of Oroville is planning to
file a complaint Wednesday against the state Department of
Water Resources for damages it says it suffered during and
after the emergency. About 188,000 people were evacuated from
communities along the Feather River after the failure of
Oroville Dam’s main spillway last Feb. 7.
The verdict is in and California stands convicted of gross
negligence in the construction and maintenance of the nation’s
highest dam, Oroville. The dam on the Feather River came very
close to failing last year, forcing the evacuation of a
quarter-million people living downstream. … Clearly, for
decades there was no willingness at DWR [California Department
of Water Resources] to acknowledge the fundamental nature of
the flaws and spend money to repair them.
Grant Davis, director of the California Water Resources
Department, was replaced Wednesday just days after an
independent investigation of the Oroville dam spillway incident
last year found that a flawed safety culture contributed to the
disaster. The agency said Gov. Jerry Brown replaced Davis with
Karla Nemeth, who has been deputy secretary and senior advisor
for water policy at the California Natural Resources Agency
Starting with the damaged Oroville Dam, California seemed to
careen from disaster to disaster in 2017. The dam’s spillway
alone is projected to cost more than $500 million to repair.
… [Gov. Jerry] Brown maintains that the state will face more
weather-related extremes in years ahead because of climate
California water officials have always insisted public safety
was their only concern as they struggled with the crisis
unfolding last February at Oroville Dam. The forensic team
investigating what happened at Lake Oroville, however, has
pinpointed another factor guiding the decisions made by the
Department of Water Resources: the state’s desire to continue
shipping water to faraway farms and cities that rely on
deliveries from the reservoir.
The spillway failures at Oroville Dam that prompted tens of
thousands to flee for their lives last winter were the result
of years of mistakes, lax inspections and lazy repairs by the
state’s water agency, a team of independent dam experts
reported Friday. Their conclusions: State water managers should
not have built the dam’s primary spillway on faulty
Less than nine months after two massive holes formed in Lake
Oroville’s main spillway, construction crews wrapped up their
first phase of rebuilding it. Some local residents have
expressed concerns that the quick turnover could result in
faults or design flaws, but an official with the Department of
Water Resources said if any crew can accomplish the feat, it
would be Kiewit Infrastructure West Co.
The independent team of experts investigating the dramatic
failure of the spillways last February at Oroville Dam that led
to the evacuation of 188,000 people has concluded that
California water officials were “overconfident and complacent”
and gave “inadequate priority for dam safety,” according to a
final report released Friday.
The forensic team investigating the February emergency at
Oroville Dam blasted the California Department of Water
Resources on Friday, saying the dam’s owner and operator did a
poor job of designing, building and maintaining the structure
and neglected safety while focusing on the “water delivery
needs” of its customers to the south.
State Department of Water Resources officials recently met with
Oroville Dam Coalition members to consider their ideas for
the Oroville Wildlife Area project, but announced later
the same day that the department had different plans.
Elected officials and other groups representing those living
below the troubled Oroville Dam have asked the Trump
administration to hold off on renewing its 50-year license,
saying the federal government should at least know why the
spillway broke in half last winter before signing off.
There were many takeaways from last February’s Lake Oroville
spillway incident, but one very alarming one: a large number of
Yuba-Sutter residents who evacuated said they experienced
issues with leaving the area, mainly due to traffic congestion.
And a startling number of residents reported that they stayed
home instead of fleeing, risking their lives in the event the
emergency spillway did collapse.
The near-disaster at Oroville Dam last February brought damage
claims flooding into the state by the hundreds – shops and
restaurants that lost business, farms that got overwhelmed by
surges in water, cities and counties buried in evacuation
expenses. Most claims argue that the state is responsible for
the emergency because it ignored warning signs about the
condition of the dam’s spillway.
The Oroville Dam spillway crisis this past February is still
under investigation – all sorts of investigations, including
concerns about vegetation and cracking. Officials say the
problems have been mitigated, plus, this water year might not
be as wet as last.
The previously secret state Department of Water Resources
memorandum explaining the hairline cracks in the Oroville Dam
spillway is now public. The document provides more details on
how Kiewit Infrastructure West Co., the contractor for spillway
reconstruction, tried to reduce shrinkage, which leads to
cracking in concrete.
Yuba-Sutter residents voiced concerns to the Department of
Water Resources over a variety of issues Thursday night,
including the hairline cracks that have appeared on the
reconstructed spillway, a need for more transparency moving
forward, and the significant amount of sediment buildup in the
Feather River brought about by the Lake Oroville incident last
February and plans – or lack thereof – to clear it out.
Northern California residents living in the shadow of the
nation’s tallest dam vented decades of frustration with state
water managers Wednesday, telling officials they have no
credibility when they say hairline cracks in a newly rebuilt
spillway are nothing to worry about.
It might be another year or so until reconstruction of the main
spillway at Lake Oroville is officially complete, but
Department of Water Resources officials say the structure is
ready for whatever this winter can throw at it, even if there
are a few cracks here and there.
Phase two of construction at Oroville Dam — with work on both
spillways — might prove more challenging than the first feat,
the contractor’s project director said in a media call
Thursday. … DWR [California Department of Water
Resources] will hold two community meetings next week.
Oroville’s mayor said Thursday she knew about cracks in the
replacement spillway at the troubled dam nearby and is not
concerned, but heaped criticism on state water officials for
failing to communicate with her town. Linda Dahlmeier said the
Department of Water Resources should have proactively
communicated that cracks were expected but has instead created
a “firestorm” in a community that was rattled by sudden
evacuation orders last February.
Politicians and river guides are calling upon the state
Department of Water Resources to mitigate sediment build up in
the Feather River following the Oroville Dam
crisis. … The state Department of Water Resources
is currently assessing the impacts of sediment on the river
system, with the study expected to be complete in December,
said Jon Ericson, acting division chief for the division of
Hairline cracks have been detected in sections of the newly
reconstructed flood-control spillway at Oroville Dam. State and
federal officials said they’re confident the cracks don’t pose
a safety problem and don’t need to be repaired.
Several small cracks have been discovered on the Oroville Dam’s
newly rebuilt concrete spillway, prompting federal regulators
to express concern about the $500 million construction project
under way at the troubled facility. But state water officials
said Tuesday that the series of millimeter-wide cracks on the
surface of the main spillway pose no structural problems for
the nation’s tallest dam.
Federal regulators have asked the officials who operate
Oroville Dam — and who are in charge of the $500 million-plus
effort to rebuild and reinforce the facility’s compromised
spillways — to explain small cracks that have appeared in
recently rebuilt sections of the dam’s massive concrete
This tour explored the Sacramento River and its tributaries
through a scenic landscape as participants learned about the
issues associated with a key source for the state’s water supply.
All together, the river and its tributaries supply 35 percent of
California’s water and feed into two major projects: the State
Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. Tour
participants got an on-site update of repair efforts on the
Oroville Dam spillway.
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.
Reps. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, and Doug LaMalfa,
R-Richvale, Monday introduced to a bill that would require the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to conduct an additional
environmental review of the Oroville Dam. The congressmen would
like to see a review done before the commission approves the
relicensing of the dam under state Department of Water
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
California is launching an overall safety review of the
nation’s tallest dam to pinpoint any needed upgrades in the
half-century-old structure, water officials said Wednesday,
launching the kind of overarching review called for by an
independent national panel of experts in September following
the collapse of two spillways at Oroville Dam.
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.
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.
Survey results largely showed that respondents weren’t happy
with how things went down this past February at the Lake
Oroville spillways and the events that followed. Most
respondents expressed their concerns were with the California
Department of Water Resources.
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.
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
The state Department of Water Resources intends to open the
spillway boat launch ramp after construction at the dam is
complete, but there is a possibility it will stay out of
commission, according to a department official. The spillway
boat launch is the largest on the lake, with up to 12 lanes
when the water is high enough.
With just more than two weeks until the initial reconstruction
of the main spillway at Lake Oroville is supposed to be
completed, the Department of Water Resources released
operations plan for the reservoir for this coming flood season.
In February, a huge hole opened in the Lake Oroville main
spillway. The cause of the hole is still undetermined. …
State and federal agencies devised a plan to quickly repair or
replace the structures at the lake.
The north state assemblyman who represents Oroville, where the
threat of a dam collapse in February forced 188,000 downstream
residents to evacuate, is racing to tighten inspection
standards before the end of the legislative session Friday
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.
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.
Faulty design, construction and repairs of the main Oroville
Dam spillway allowed water to seep under its floor and build
up, lifting a concrete slab Feb. 7 into the water flowing down
the chute, starting a chain of events that largely wrecked the
Bad design and construction of the tallest U.S. dam a
half-century ago and inadequate state and federal oversight
since then led to a disastrous spillway collapse in February,
an independent national team of dam safety experts said Tuesday
as they urged tougher safety reviews nationwide.
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.
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
It’s been six months since a failure of the Oroville Dam
Spillway led to the evacuation nearly 200,000 people, including
hundreds who took refuge at an evacuation center at the Nevada
County Fairgrounds as well as hotels in the Grass Valley and
Nevada City area.
A man has been sentenced to 13 years in state prison after
pleading no contest to charges he broke into an Oroville market
during the Oroville Dam spillway evacuations in February, Butte
County District Attorney Mike Ramsey announced Friday.
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.
The state Department of Water Resources is beginning to lay the
gravel foundation for spawning salmon. This comes as much of
the gravel was washed away with high flows from the Oroville
Dam spillway this winter.
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
Several Oroville city councilors have voiced criticism about
the mayor’s communication with representatives of the state
Department of Water Resources and the State Water Contractors
during the height of the Oroville Dam crisis.
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.
Work crews with heavy machinery started emergency repairs
Thursday to a levee that protects Yuba City, and was damaged by
high flows during the Oroville Dam spillway emergency. The
$28.5 million project will create a seepage cutoff wall and
rebuild 2.9-miles of levee along the west side of the Feather
River that protect 80,000 people.
Lawyers filed a $15 million government claim on Tuesday on
behalf of walnut farmers who say they lost more than two dozen
acres of land along the Feather River when the Oroville Dam
spillway failed in February, causing massive flooding and
destructive erosion in the area below.
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.
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.
A new report from a UC Berkeley group researching what caused
the Lake Oroville spillway to fail in February is concerned
that a green spot on the nation’s tallest dam might mean it is
leaking. This is not the first time the “green spot” on the
southern end of Oroville Dam has been brought up.
Slowly – but surely – we are learning that the
near-catastrophic failure of Oroville Dam’s main spillway
wasn’t truly caused by weather, even though the state claims
that in seeking federal aid for repairs. Rather, it resulted
from poor engineering and construction when the nation’s
highest dam was rising more than a half-century ago as the
centerpiece of the State Water Project, and poor maintenance
since its completion.
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.
In 2017, it is likely that no other water story grabbed as many
headlines in California and across the country as the flood
incident at Oroville Dam, the centerpiece of the State Water Project and
its largest water storage facility.
On our upcoming Northern California
Tour, we will spend time at the Oroville Dam visitor’s
center and meet with California Department of Water Resources
staff. You’ll see drone footage from February’s flood
incident, learn the engineering background on what led to it, and
hear about plans to stabilize the spillway before the next winter
storms and to finalize repairs by 2018.
Many lake users have complained to the state about fewer
recreational opportunities on the lake in the aftermath of the
Lake Oroville spillway disaster in February. Since then, the
lake level has dropped significantly, meaning boaters have
farther to walk after parking their vehicles at the high-water
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.
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
Congressman Doug LaMalfa doesn’t want a new license issued for
Oroville Dam until some safety questions are answered and some
commitments are made to local government. LaMalfa, R-Richvale,
sent a letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission acting
Chairwoman Cheryl LaFleur requesting the delay.
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.
It’s still too early to know just how significant an impact the
February evacuation and Oroville Dam spillway incident had on
Yuba and Sutter counties. So far, estimates put damages and
losses around $22 million for local municipalities, and that
number will continue to grow as county officials lock down
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.
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.
Quick thinkers who came up with a plan to rescue millions of
salmon using fresh water from fire hydrants during the Oroville
Dam emergency were recognized for their efforts Sunday by
legislators, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife and
In the latest skirmish over transparency at the troubled
Oroville Dam, a Northern California activist group has sued
state officials alleging they’re illegally withholding
information about potentially toxic asbestos.
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
Not just concrete and rebar, but “human and organizational”
factors that could have contributed to the emergency at the
Oroville Dam spillway will be included in the investigation
currently underway by an independent team of experts assembled
by two national dam associations.
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.
When it comes to repairing the tallest dam in America,
sometimes it helps to shrink the problem to a more manageable
size. That’s why California water officials are relying on a
scale model of the damaged spillway at Oroville Dam to plan
State Parks expects a busy Memorial Day weekend at Lake
Oroville even with the spillway dominating the news. … A
portion of Lake Oroville remains closed as construction
continues at the Oroville Dam spillway.
The Department of Water Resources invited downstream levee
maintaining agencies and county emergency operators to a
meeting in Oroville on Monday to discuss ways of improving
operations and planning for future emergency situations.
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
One of the wettest years in California history that ended a
record five-year drought has rejuvenated the call for new storage
to be built above and below ground.
In a state that depends on large surface water reservoirs to help
store water before moving it hundreds of miles to where it is
used, a wet year after a long drought has some people yearning
for a place to sock away some of those flood flows for when they
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.
There was going to be a steam train – and a monorail. Plus a
major resort featuring a 250-seat restaurant and a 1,000-seat
amphitheater. As many as 5 million visitors a year would show
up. When it came to wooing Butte County about the construction
of Oroville Dam, state officials weren’t shy about setting
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.
Pursuing exiting the settlement agreement with the state
Department of Water Resources was on the table Tuesday night at
a special meeting of the Oroville City Council, but the
decision was set aside for later. Most of the council expressed
interest in gathering more public opinion on the issue before
taking a vote, with a town hall date set for May 22 at 5:30
p.m. in the Municipal Auditorium.
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.
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.
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.
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.
California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird said
Tuesday that the February crisis with the broken spillway at
Oroville Dam offers an “important opportunity” to assess the
safety of the more than 1,400 dams in the state.
“We really want to use the focus on this to look at the issue of
dam safety in California,” he said during a hearing of the Senate
Natural Resources and Water Committee. “We have the best
inspection program of the 50 states but it is clear we can do
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.