Race Against Rain: Oroville Dam Must Drain 50 Feet by Wednesday

Oroville DamOfficials are releasing water from the Oroville Dam, the nation’s highest, at the astonishing rate of 100,000 cubic feet per second, with the goal of lowering the lake’s elevation by 50 feet before a week of rain and snow hits the region Wednesday.

At a press conference Sunday night, law enforcement and California Department of Water Resources officials announced that they had released enough water to stop flow over the emergency spillway, reducing the risk of erosion and structural collapse. The lake dropped below its maximum height of 901 feet above sea level, and was continuing to subside, officials reported.

However, water was continuing to flow into the lake behind the dam at a rate of 40,000 cubic feet per second, the result of runoff and snow melt from weeks of heavy precipitation after five years of drought. As a result, the dam would need to be drained as quickly as possible over the next 72 hours. The maximum release rate is about 150,000 cubic feet per second, though officials are reluctant to release water down the main spillway at that rate because of the risk of structural damage.

Already, the main concrete spillway has developed a large hole, which officials estimate will cost $100 to $200 million to fix. The adjacent emergency spillway, which drains onto an unpaved hillside of soil, rocks and trees, has also developed a hole  that could result in structural failure and that officials may have to plug by dropping rocks from helicopters. If the emergency spillway does collapse, it could lose 30 feet in height, releasing a wall of water into the Feather River below, which drains into the Sacramento River. That poses a severe risk to communities below the dam, including the state capital of Sacramento.

Officials issued an emergency evacuation order Sunday afternoon, warning that the emergency spillway was expected to collapse within an hour. That led to massive traffic jams as residents drove northward towards Chico. Though the spillway remains intact for now, nearly 200,000 residents from Oroville and surrounding communities remain under evacuation.

California Gov. Jerry Brown issued an emergency order Sunday evening and indicated that the state was managing the relief effort.

Officials also said they were cooperating with the federal government. Separately, Gov. Brown had asked President Donald Trump for federal emergency relief funds to address damage to the state done by storms earlier this year.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. His new book, How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This piece was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Despite Heavy Rains, California Water Restrictions Remain in Place

Lake Shasta Water ReservoirDrought-busting levels of rain and snow have put pressure to lift emergency restrictions on usage, but California regulators declined to ease up on the longstanding curbs.

“Amid the ongoing succession of storms, water managers up and down the state are urging regulators in Sacramento to permanently cancel historic, emergency drought rules that have been in place for 18 months,” U-T San Diego reported late last month. “It’s an escalation of their ongoing opposition to these restrictions, which already have been eased considerably since homeowners and businesses were first forced to cut consumption by a statewide average of 25 percent. California doesn’t have an official definition for statewide drought, leaving it up to the governor’s discretion on when to announce an end to that designation.”

Swift, uneven progress

But in a new report, the State Water Resources Control Board insisted that the drought’s persistent impact had to be mitigated further before any changes could be considered. “Some reservoirs remain critically low and groundwater storage remains depleted in many areas due to the continued impact of prolonged drought,” they concluded, according to the Sacramento Bee. “Precipitation cannot be counted on to continue, and snowpack levels, while above average for the current time of year, are subject to rapid reductions as seen in 2016 and before.” While the extraordinary rules imposed to conserve water were on track to expire at the end of this month, the board planned to extend them 270 days into the future.

The caution struck a contrast to the swiftness of California’s transformation from dry to wet. “According to the U.S. drought monitor website,” HotAir noted, “there are no areas of exceptional drought left in the state.” Updated data, the site observed, “indicates that one year ago 64 percent of the state was considered to be under either extreme or exceptional drought conditions, the two highest categories. Now, largely thanks to the storms over the past month, that figure has dropped to 2 percent.”

Continued challenges

Water districts have now had to scramble to figure out how to store what could be excess water if the new trends continue. Although the pathway to new storage initiatives has been cleared and funded, the state’s bureaucratic process will add extra time. “In 2014, voters approved a $7.5 billion water bond, including $2.7 billion for storage projects, to provide funding to water projects and programs throughout the state,” KXTV recalled. “Since then, government agencies across the state have been developing the process for accepting proposals.” This month, the station added, “the Water Commission will consider bids on numerous water storage projects across the state.”

And milder drought conditions have persisted. “Overall, the monitor … showed 51 percent of California remains in some form of drought, but that’s down from just over 57 percent last week and compares with 81 percent three months ago,” CNBC reported. And in a twist adding an unexpected layer of politics to the fraught question of resource management in the most beleaguered parts of the state, some Central Valley water officials became the focus of a misspending scandal. “An irrigation district in Central California’s prime farming region gave its employees free housing, interest-free loans and credit cards that the workers used to buy tickets for concerts and professional sports games, possibly breaking the law,” said state officials according to NBC Bay Area. “Employees at Panoche Water District based in Firebaugh used the credit cards to buy season tickets to Raiders and Oakland A’s games and attend a Katy Perry concert, officials said.”

The long view

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown has kept a focus on what regulatory framework will persist even after all drought conditions have been adequately mitigated. “Brown has asked the state agency to design new conservation rules for water districts that will stay in place regardless of whether California is in drought,” according to U-T San Diego. “In the long run, the governor and state regulators are moving forward with their plan to establish permanent usage budgets tailored to each water district, as well as a suite of other regulations governing water consumption. The new rules are expected to include caps for both indoor use and outdoor water use, taking into consideration differences in weather patterns and other factors from one geographic region to another.”

Emergency release of water from Oroville Dam escalates

As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

As water Thursday night rose toward the brim of the reservoir behind the damaged spillway of Oroville Dam, state officials braced for the unprecedented: having to open the emergency outlet of the tallest dam in the United States, which could have untold ecological consequences.

The trouble started Tuesday in the midst of relentless rainstorms, as a section of the concrete spillway that later grew to more than 200 feet wide and 30 feet deep collapsed, frothing the Feather River below like chocolate syrup, so thick with mud and debris that those toiling to save millions of salmon at the hatchery below could hardly see two inches beneath the surface.

Officials stopped releases to inspect the problem but runoff kept the reservoir rising. On Thursday morning, officials increased the flow. The fissure ballooned outward, sending coffee-colored water gushing down the adjacent hillside. …

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Less than 1 percent of California now in ‘extreme’ drought

As reported by CNBC:

Storms in the past week helped bring rain and snow to California, resulting in a “significantly improved” drought picture for the state, the U.S. Drought Monitor said Thursday.

As a result, the latest monitor shows just 47 percent of California being designated at some level of drought intensity. Last week that figure was just over 50 percent and three months ago it stood at 73 percent.

While Northern California is essentially free of drought conditions, there are various levels of drought still in the state’s southern and central areas. Yet the latest map showed major improvement for several southern counties.

“In California, the cumulative effect of several months of abundant precipitation has significantly improved drought conditions across the state,” the monitor said. …

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