California drought conditions improve

CHELBERT DAI / AGGIE

Oroville dam ruptures, flooding reported on Yolo Causeway

Water levels have been on the rise with what is so far one of the wettest years in California on record. The Oroville Dam began to overflow, with a sizeable hole in the spillway, which emergency crews began to fill with 1-ton bags of rocks. The emergency spillway, which is only used in extreme cases, was used for the first time in 48 years. Over 180,000 people were advised to evacuate due to the dangerous levels of water.

“Alert-Alert-Alert — Yes, an evacuation has been ordered. All Yuba County on the valley floor. The auxiliary spillway is close to failing. Please travel safely. Contact family and friends. Help the elderly. Take only routes to the east, south, or west. Do not travel North toward Oroville!!!!!” a Facebook post by the Yuba County Office of Emergency Services read.

Governor Jerry Brown took action to repair the dam’s infrastructure damage and ensure public safety by announcing a four-point plan to bolster dam safety and flood protection. This included requesting a $387 million proposition appropriation from the legislature to go toward emergency responses, creating emergency plans with maps of dams, improving inspections of dams and requesting more funding to improve the overall safety of dams. Congressman John Garamendi also met with farmers and flood control agencies as he tried to plan the rebuilding of levees and provide federal relief.

After the emergency spillway flowed over and a great deal of soil erosion occurred, a large release of approximately 100,000 cubic feet per second had to be made by the California Department of Water Resources. Many parkways and other areas were flooded, including the Yolo Bypass.

The Yolo Bypass is performing as designed, to direct much of flooding across I-80 & I-5,” said Boone Lek, a senior engineer at the California Department of Water Resources. “It caused us to slow the release, which resulted in having to go over the emergency spillways for the first time in history.”

However, infrastructures and residents were not the only things uprooted due to the rupture of the dam and subsequent flooding –– fish hatcheries were put in danger as well.

Today, we’re in areas checking out salmon and steelhead that are all trapped and will die within the day,” said Harry Morse of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. “We had to move approximately five million young baby chinook salmon from one portion of the hatchery to the satellite area. We’ve had tremendous amounts of silt from erosion, and have had to close down about half of our hatchery to save fish. We’ve been significantly affected.”

The Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area was closed due to flooding, as well as many other areas in the Sacramento region. As residents from Yuba County evacuated as advised, businesses, gas stations and towns were deserted. Many residents loaded up their cars, anxious to get out of potential danger. However, officials and emergency crews worked on controlling the situation as quickly as possible.

“The concern was losing the gated spillway –– that’s why the operators of the reservoir made a decision to reduce flows so that they can go in and evaluate that initial damage,” Lek said.

Brown visited the Incident Command Post to see areas affected by flooding, as well as to determine how the spillways can be enhanced in the future. On March 3 at 10 a.m., the Hyatt Power Plant at Lake Oroville resumed its operation to remove eroded soil and debris from the water. The emergency crews and other officials worked hard to reduce the water flow and, as always, make public safety their top priority.

 

Written by: Kaelyn Tuermer-Lee — city@theaggie.org