Eroding dam further proof that Northern California drought is over

Cecil BuchananFeb 16 , 2017

Public safety officials in California ordered the evacuation of almost 200,000 people living below the Oroville Dam, 70 miles north of Sacramento, on Sunday as Lake Oroville continued to flow over the dam's two spillways, erasing a service road and replacing it with a massive sinkhole.

65,000 cfs of water flow through a damaged spillway on the Oroville Dam in Oroville, California, U.S., February 10, 2017.

But with the 3,537,577-acre-foot reservoir filled to 101 percent of capacity, officials assured the public that water would flow evenly over an emergency spillway on the south facing side of the dam.

Unexpected erosion chewed through the main spillway during heavy rain earlier this week, sending chunks of concrete flying and creating a 200-foot-long, 30-foot-deep hole that continues growing.

Crews from California's Department of Water Resources have since plugged the large hole in the dam with rocks as they work to fix the problem, which stopped the water spilling out.

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Engineers were continuing to assess damage to the emergency spillway that official feared would collapse, triggering the massive evacuation affecting nearly 200,000 residents in Butte and Yuba counties.

The area had always been in drought, until this year, when heavy rain and snow bombarded the state.

The National Weather Service in Sacramento said: "Only the auxiliary spillway of Oroville Dam is considered to be under threat at this time". The structure was expected to give way Sunday evening. "We don't know how much water that means, but we do know that's potentially 30 feet of depth of Lake Oroville". The goal is to lower lake levels by 50 feet in anticipation of the rain, which could come as soon as Wednesday.

At 4:20 p.m local time, an evacuation order was issued for everyone living downstream of Lake Oroville's dam. By late on Sunday night the situation had improved, but the evacuation order has yet to be lifted.

They remain in shelters as engineers worked to shore up a crumbling overflow channel and drain the rain-swollen reservoir at the United States' tallest dam before new storms sweep the region.

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The structure is nearly 50 years old and located upstream from the town of Oroville, which has 16,000 residents.

At least 250 California law enforcement officers were posted near the dam and along evacuation routes to manage the exodus and ensure evacuated towns do not become targets for looting or other criminal activity.

Still, evacuation orders remained in place.

Water flows through break in the wall of the Oroville Dam spillway Area of Oroville, America's tallest dam, with tens of thousands of people evacuatedHow many people have been evacuated? At 230 metres high, the structure, built between 1962 and 1968, it is some 12 metres taller than the Hoover Dam.

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