Engineers Assess Spillway Problem at Oroville Dam

D.W.R. announces Lake Oroville water releases

Although inflows decreased Friday and into Saturday morning to 89,000 cubic feet per second, water officials have also decreased outflows to 55,100 cfs, according to KCRA chief meteorologist Mark Finan. Cal Fire crews, for instance, have been tapped to clear up to 100 acres of trees and brush between the lip of the emergency spillway and the river. Cracks in the spillway, and a hole estimated to be 300 feet wide, are evident, and water flowing erratically down the spillway was gradually reduced Tuesday until it was shut off completely.

Salmon eggs require clear, cool shallow water to hatch and the muddy torrent already plunging down the main spillway into the Feather River was enough to cause numerous eggs in the hatchery to be lost, officials said. Depending on how much the spillway is used, the concrete needs maintenance about every 10 years. State officials say a break in the weather will allow engineers to truly assess the damage and plan repairs.

If the department can't keep using the eroded concrete spillway, Lake Oroville would naturally flow over an ungated concrete crest into the mostly unlined emergency spillway once the reservoir reaches 901 feet elevation. The tremendous waterfall headed down the compromised spillway and an adjacent hillside was letting out 35,000 cubic feet of water per second, but that paled in comparison to the 190,000 cubic feet per second of storm water flowing into the reservoir, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Water flows through a break in the wall of the Oroville Dam spillway on Thursday. Lake Oroville came within a foot of spilling into the emergency spillway in January 1997.

The hatchery, on the Feather River, is vital to the survival of chinook salmon, whose numbers have dwindled during the drought.

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The state hatchery inundated by the debris from the Oroville spillway produces nearly a third of all hatchery-raised fish in the state, supporting struggling native fish species and a $4 billion salmon-fishing industry.

Hughan says the hatchery is in full rescue mode and has called in every available person and vehicle. But they said more rain could fill the the Oroville reservoir to capacity and cause an overflow by Saturday. Engineers don't know what caused cave-in that is expected to keep growing until it reaches bedrock.

On Tuesday, engineers discovered a massive hole in the lower half of the spillway.

Officials said they expected the cavity to widen as a result - and it did.

The main spillway is used to manage levels in Lake Oroville, one of the state's largest reservoirs.