Oroville Dam's emergency spillway may not be used, officials say

With a break in the weather and increased outflow from Oroville Dam's heavily damaged spillway, state officials said Friday they no longer believe the swollen reservoir will rise to the top.After a grim assessment late Thursday, officials said Friday morning...

Oroville Dam's emergency spillway may not be used, officials say

With a break in the weather and increased outflow from Oroville Dam's heavily damaged spillway, state officials said Friday they no longer believe the swollen reservoir will rise to the top.

After a grim assessment late Thursday, officials said Friday morning they think they can avoid using the dam's emergency spillway, which they've been working feverishly to avoid. The emergency structure feeds into an unlined ravine, and the water would propel soil, trees and other debris into the Feather River.

Scott McLean, a spokesman for Cal Fire, said the damaged main spillway was releasing water at 65,000 cubic feet per second, nearly twice as much as Thursday. The releases ramped up to 55,000 cfs about midnight and hit 65,000 at 2:30 a.m.

Also helping the situation: the amount of water flowing into Lake Oroville declined significantly overnight, from 190,000 cfs to about 140,000 by 8 a.m.

State officials said the lake level had risen 10 feet overnight, to 894 feet. That's about 7 feet below the point at which the emergency spillway would have to be used.

"At this point in time with the amount of inflow, compared to the outflow and Mother Nature holds fast and there's no precipitation the next several days, they're predicting the emergency spillway will not have to be used," McLean said.

One factor working against dam operators: The dam's power plant, which could release up to 15,000 cfs, has been shut off. Debris kicked up by the releases from the main spillway and dumped into the river made it impossible to run the plant, McLean said.

"Right now, the turbines are off," he said.

The prospect of higher flows coming out of the reservoir had Butte County emergency officials and others huddling with Department of Water Resources engineers, Cal Fire representatives deep into the night Thursday.

Butte County officials issued a statement late Thursday warning residents to prepare for a possible evacuation, although they also said they were told flows through the Feather River, which runs through the center of Oroville, would be less than half the flows experienced during the great flood of January 1997.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

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