February 13, 2017

Oroville Dam: Nearly 200,000 Northern California residents ordered to evacuate due to risk of emergency spillway failure and catastrophic flooding

I've always said I would never live:

(1) Next to a body of running water, or
(2)  On a hillside or mountainside.

Now I'll add number 3 to the list:

(3) Downstream from a dam.

Imagine going about your business on a Sunday afternoon, only to received a reverse 911 call ordering you to evacuate given the risk of catastrophic flooding if the earthen emergency spillway fails on the Oroville Dam, the tallest dam in the United States.  Nearly 200,000 Northern California residents received just this order to evacuate yesterday.  Yes, nearly 200,000.  Many people evacuated with only family members, pets, and little or no belongings.

Oroville Dam spillway failure
Photo Credit:  Washington Post

If the emergency spillway fails, experts predict the earthen spillway area will collapse, allowing a 30 foot wall of water to cascade from the dam.  The consequence?  Catastrophic flooding in communities downstream (south) in the highways 70 and 99 corridors,  including the communities of Marysville and Yuba City.  Experts have not released any expectation if the Sacramento area would be affected.

The Oroville Dam was built in the 1960s.  It is located in northern California near the community of Oroville, about 138 miles (by car) north of where I live in Pleasant Hill, California.  The dam serves many purposes, including production of electricity, supplying water to farmers for irrigation, and supplying drinking water to approximately 22 million California residents.  Experts are saying that the Oroville dam itself is not 'currently' at risk of failure.  Not sure that offers much comfort for affected California residents.

The earthen emergency spillway was opened on Saturday, the first time it had been activated since the dam was completed in 1968.  Yes, the first time.  Is that amazing, or what?

Weather is currently dry, but more rain is expected to begin Wednesday night, with ongoing period of rain forecasted for the next week.  Yes, the next week.  The mountains around the Oroville Dam area forecasted to receive approximately 8 inches of rain.  An amazing 20 inches of rain fell in that area during prior 10 days or so.  After a number of years of drought, this winter has been the wettest on record for California.  I can vouch that Pleasant Hill where I live is saturated.

Stay safe, everyone.  *** Update 2/15/2017 - The mandatory evacuation order was lifted yesterday afternoon, replaced by an evacuation warning order.  By media accounts, most affected people have preparations in place to evacuate again on short notice.  ***

Mary Rae Fouts


  1. Damn! No pun intended.

  2. So much for California's drought.


Thanks for sharing your comments here! Mary Rae Fouts