OROVILLE (CBS SF) – Butte County officials lifted an evacuation order for residents of Oroville and other communities along the Feather River Tuesday, allowing the 188,000 residents forced to flee after a spillway at the Oroville Dam began to crumble to return to their homes.
Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said the level of water in Lake Oroville had been greatly reduced and the around-the-clock repair efforts to shore up the emergency spillway have been successful.
“There has been no significant erosion on the east side of the primary spillway (since the repair efforts had begun),” Honea said.
However, with rain forecasted beginning Wednesday night, Honea said an evacuation warning would remain in place.
“Taking into account the current level of risk, the predicted strength of the next round of inclement weather and the capacity of the lake to accommodate increased flow associated with those storms, we have concluded that it is safe to reduce the immediate evacuation order to an evacuation warning,” Honea said.
“This allows evacuated residents to return to their homes and for businesses in the area to resume operations,” Honea continued. “An evacuation warning considers the possibility that future inclement weather or increased lake levels or problems associated with the existing damage could elevate risks in the future.”
Honea said residents should be prepared to evacuate again in the future if it becomes necessary.
RAW VIDEO: Oroville News Conference (Fast Forward To 37:00)
“Residents need to be prepared to maintain situational awareness,” he said.
Officials said 30 tons of rock per hour had been dropped along the spillway to shore it up by a fleet of National Guard, state, local and private helicopters that were making a drop every 90 seconds.
Honea said the repair effort was on “ahead of schedule” and would be completed before Wednesday night’s storm.
Crews also built a new road over the old one that had been destroyed by rushing water, so now dump trucks can now drop rocks directly on to the huge crater.
Roadblocks along the highway between Chico and Oroville had been removed and traffic was allowed to flow through once again. Buses were also dispatched to the Silver Dollar Fairgrounds in Chico where at least 700 residents were being housed to transport anyone without a vehicle back to their homes.
Bill Croyle, the acting director of the Department of Water Resources, told reporters the break in the weather over the last five days has played a major role in the repair effort.
“We are maintaining our releases from the reservoir at 100,000 cubic feet per second,” he said. “With the weather we been having over the last couple days, we continue to see the inflow to the reservoir drop… We are continuing to make significant gains in removing water from the reservoir.”
The lake level had dropped to 887 feet by Tuesday afternoon with the goal being 850 feet.
“I want to reiterate, the spillway has been stable for four days,” Croyle said.
The weather forecast also appears to have changed. Now, the storms projected to arrive Thursday are projected to be smaller and colder, so less runoff is expected.
Earlier in the day, President Donald Trump pledged to send federal aid to help in the efforts at the Oroville Dam.
Speaking to reporters, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Trump has been “keeping a close eye on the Oroville Dam situation.”
“We’ve worked closely with (1st District Rep.) Doug LaMalfa (R-Ca) … and other state officials to help people who have been impacted. The situation is a textbook example of why we need to pursue a major infrastructure package in Congress. Dams, bridges, roads in all parts around the country have fallen into disrepair.”
“In order to prevent the next disaster we’ll pursue the President’s vision for an overhaul of our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.”
“We hope everyone remains safe as the evacuations continue and we will be working alongside with FEMA and appropriate government entities to make sure that we are doing everything we can to attend to this matter.”