OROVILLE (CBS/AP) — At least 188,000 people were asked to evacuate in the area near the Oroville Dam Sunday after authorities warned an emergency spillway in the structure was in danger of failing and unleashing uncontrolled flood waters on towns below.

The Butte County Sheriff’s Department issued the evacuation order at about 4:20 p.m. after the hazardous situation developed. Authorities are concerned the erosion could lead to the failure of the Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway.

MONDAY UPDATE: Tons Of Rocks Bolster Failing Oroville Dam Spillway

Evacuations orders were expanded later Sunday evening for areas of Butte and Yuba counties downstream from the Oroville Dam after one of the dam’s emergency spillway was on the verge of collapse because of severe erosion, according to authorities.

The erosion at the head of the emergency spillway threatens to undermine the concrete weir and allow large, uncontrolled releases of water from Lake Oroville, the California Department of Water Resources said. Those potential flows could overwhelm the capacity of downstream channels and levees.

The good news being reported late Sunday night was that the release of water from the main spillway had stopped water from going over the damaged auxiliary spillway.

According to the Butte County officials, in addition to downtown Oroville and Thermalito, other evacuated areas include the towns of Gridley, Biggs and Loma Rica as well as areas along the Feather River south of Butte County.

Additionally, there were evacuations ordered in Yuba County including the areas around Hallwood, Marysville, Olivehurst/Linda and Plumas Lake.

Over five hours later, hundreds of cars carrying panicked and angry people were sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

“The police came and told us to evacuate,” said Kaysi Levias who was with her husband, Greg, at a gas station as they attempted to flee.

Officials warned residents that the spillway could fail within an hour.

“I’m just shocked,” Greg Levias said. “Pretty mad.”

“Not giving us more warning,” said Kaysi, finishing his sentence.

“We’ve never been through this before,” said Kaysi Levias. “We have two boys and our dog. All the stuff we could fit in the trunk — clothes and blankets.”

What they couldn’t fit they piled as high as they could in their downstairs Yuba City apartment and joined the line of traffic attempting to leave the city where they had moved just three weeks ago.

When authorities offered an update at 10 p.m., both Butte County Sheriff Kory L. Honea and Cal Fire regional chief Kevin Lawson said that the release of water though the dam’s main spillway had significantly lowered the level of the lake and stopped water from going down the emergency spillway, causing more erosion.

“The efforts by DWR to lower the lake level by utilizing the main spillway has been effective. Now there is no more water going over the emergency spillway,” said Honea. “That is a good thing.”

However, despite the stability brought by stopping the erosion of the emergency spillway, there were still some concerns.

“There are still a lot of unknowns,” explained Honea. “We need to continue to lower the lake level and we need to give the Department of Water Resources the time to thoroughly evaluate the situation so that we can to make some decision as to whether or not repopulate areas.”

At an early 6 p.m. press conference, Honea said the evacuation order went out after engineers spotted a hole that was eroding back toward the top of the spillway.

“I couldn’t risk the lives of thousands of people, so we took this significant step.” said Honea.

Honea said that the crews with the California Department of Water Resources were doing everything they could to avert the crisis.

“I would rather be safe than sorry. I would rather have people moving out of the area, hopefully to safety, than to sit and hope for a solution,” said Honea.

Experts told Honea shortly after 6 p.m. that the erosion was not advancing as rapidly as had been initially thought, giving hope that the emergency spillway might not actually fail.

Honea said two inches of water is still coming over the dam, but that is significantly down from earlier flows.

Honea says there is a plan to plug the hole by using helicopters to drop rocks into the crevasse.

The California Department of Water Resources also issued it’s own statement early Sunday evening.

“The concern is that erosion at the head of the auxiliary spillway threatens to undermine the concrete weir and allow large, uncontrolled releases of water from Lake Oroville,” the statement read.  “Those potential flows could exceed the capacity of downstream channels.”

Residents of Oroville were advised to evacuate in a northward direction such as towards Chico, officials said. Other cities were advised to follow the orders of their local law enforcement.

The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services activated all State sponsored California Swift Water Rescue Teams as part of the evolving Dam Emergency.

Department of Water Resources spokesman Kevin Dossey tells the Sacramento Bee the emergency spillway was rated to handle 250,000 cubic feet per second, but it began to show weakness Sunday at a small fraction of that.

Flows through the spillway peaked at 12,600 cubic feet per second at 1 a.m. Sunday and were down to 8,000 cubic feet per second by midday.

Several evacuation centers have been set up to aid those who had to leave their homes.

  • Silver Dollar Fairgrounds at 2357 Fair Street in Chico (small animals accepted)
  • Paradise Alliance Church (CMA) at 6491 Clark Road  in Oroville (small animals accepted, RVs allowed in parking lot)
  • Elks Lodge (Paradise) 1100 Elks Lane, Paradise – (no small animals accepted, RVs allowed in parking lot)

An alternate location for residents evacuating in RVs is the Rolling Hils RV Park in Corning. Shelter for large animals is being provided at Camelot Equestrian Park on 1985 Clark Road in Oroville.

For evacuation info, Butte County residents can dial 2-1-1 from landline or cell phones. Yuba or Sutter residents can call 1-866-916-3566.

Earlier Sunday, DWR  increased the water released over the spillway to 100,000 cubic feet per second.

Water will continue to flow over an emergency spillway at the nation’s tallest dam for another day or so, officials said Sunday.

Emergency Water Release Oroville Dam

Water cascades over the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam on Feb. 11. (Calif. Dept. of Water Resources)

Skies are clear, and the overflow is steadily slowing, California Department of Water Resources spokesman Eric See said. It’s expected to stop by midday Monday.

Water began flowing over the emergency spillway at the Oroville Dam in Northern California on Saturday for the first time in its nearly 50-year history after heavy rainfall.

In addition to the emergency spillway, water also flowed through the main spillway that was significantly damaged from erosion. Officials said they’ll assess the damage starting Monday.

Oroville Dam Spillway Damage Ca. Dept. of Water Resources photo

Oroville Dam main spillway damage

Unexpected erosion chewed through the main spillway earlier this week, sending chunks of concrete flying and creating a 200-foot-long, 30-foot-deep hole that continues growing. Engineers don’t know what caused the cave-in, but Chris Orrock, a spokesman for the state Department of Water Resources, said it appears the dam’s main spillway has stopped crumbling even though it’s being used for water releases.

“There’s been no additional erosion that they can see,” Orrock said.

Water Release Oroville Dam

Water is released over the main spillway at Oroville Dam. (CBS)

Officials stressed the dam is structurally sound and there was no threat to the public.

State officials also moved most of the millions of hatchery-raised fish imperiled by muddy water flowing downstream alongside the damaged spillway after sections of its concrete walls collapsed earlier this week, the department of water resources said.

Oroville Dam

Oroville Dam and main spillway (foreground) with water being released from emergency spillway in background. (Calif. Dept. Water Resources)

About 150 miles northeast of San Francisco, Lake Oroville is one of California’s largest man-made lakes, and the 770-foot-tall Oroville Dam is the nation’s tallest. The lake is a central piece of California’s government-run water delivery network, supplying water for agriculture in the Central Valley and residents and businesses in Southern California.

TM and © Copyright 2017 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2017 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report

Comments (98)
  1. Don Benoitz says:

    first,we are evacuating people then “there is no threat to the public” Which is it going to be?

  2. The auxiliary spillway is failing and may cause a large flow of water. It isn’t the entire dam, but it is the emergency spillway and may be significant.

  3. Jon Warner says:

    Yesterday the government stated that there was no danger. Hmmm… When the government say’s “not to worry” that’s when to start worrying.

  4. What is interesting is what is happening to the spillway is happening to the poorly engineered roads where I live…. Little potholes growing… then linking together and parts of the road collapsing… And strangely no road repairs just signs that get blown over… Exactly what are we paying gas taxes on?

    1. Sam Colt says:

      Obammy already spent $1 trillion on fixing the roads…8 years ago.
      So….you know….S T F U.

      1. No federal money for this. Send the bill to Tim Cook, c/o Apple.

      2. Why is this being reported in the United States of America?

      3. We hope the whole state floats away,call chuck the shmuck.

      4. Actually since Obama, McConnell and Ryan never had a budget, that trillion dollars turned into 8 trillion…most folks unaware of this !

    2. Why don’t you ask Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer or Maxine Waters – your representative that have been so busy telling everyone else what to do they forgot to take care of their own job. While you are at it ask them why California is over 1/2 trillion dollars in debt and what is their plan to fix it?

  5. Steve Dekker says:

    The Oroville dam is experiencing a cascading toe-erosion failure event, which will definitely lead to the entire dam collapsing if it continues much longer.

    If you’re downstream from the dam, get out now!

    1. exactly Steve. The emergency spillway had no large rip rap to protect the toe from what I saw … could be wrong about that. Looks like the water flow out of it is also being slowed up with a retaining pool which will undercut the earthen part of the dam and lead to a failure in that part of the dam.

      1. Steve Dekker says:

        If the auxiliary spillway area suffers a toe erosion collapse, the entire dam could eventually collapse from a cascading toe erosion effect across the entire toe area of the dam…

        It’s a mess….

        This was a very poorly engineered dam that was improperly maintained.

        Even if the dam doesn’t collapse, I hope many people get fired, and elected government officials get tossed out of office over this fiasco.

        This was gross incompetence.

        Part of the problem was that many government officials wrongly believed California was under a “permanent” drought, so they failed to “waste” money on maintaining the spillways, since they thought they’d never be needed……

    2. Sandy Larsen says:

      This is an extremely serious situation. The reservoir is full. The main gated spillway that is designed for the maximum probable flood is not operational due to the damage for the floor slab and undermining of the side wall and serious adjacent soil erosion. Further operation might compromise the integrity of the structure itself. The emergency spillway is not intended to be used to release water. The emergency spillway is only to be used during an “act of god” runoff event where the spillway gates are wide open and the reservoir is rising into the dam freeboard. It is to prevent catastrophic overtopping of the dam. The spillage of water that resulted from the reservoir rise to the crest of this structure as the main spillway gates were closed has clearly demonstrated the risk of failure of this area. The other problem is yet to develop. As there is record snowpack and likely very high runoff from the snowmelt, normal operation would reduce the level in the reservoir to accommodate much of the spring runoff to minimize the release and flooding downstream. It may not be possible to lower the reservoir elevation with the damaged spillway out of service. If the spillway damage can not be repaired in such a manner as to make it operational at a sufficient capacity the consequences could be catastrophic. The dam itself is not in danger at this moment. But the main gated spillway cannot be used without significant risk to further problems. Furthermore, the reservoir level must be kept below the sill level of the emergency spillway or risk a failure of this fuse. The fact that the spillway has been undermined and resulting slab failure raises a lot of questions about what else might be going on under the so far undamaged area higher up. The key to success at this point will be minimal further inflow from the upper watershed and time to begin and complete remediation..

  6. We can all thank the tireless environmentalists who made it virtually impossible to consider alternate methods of water management for this dam failure.
    Your activism has made us all so much better off.

  7. I moved to Arizona in order to get away from the California state government and its mismanagement. They have had 5 years of drought conditions to make sure that all is ok. But the bullet train and unfunded liabilities are more important. Oh, and sanctuary cities suck up some cash.

  8. Ron Traguer says:

    They’ll just escape on the high-speed train California is spending all its money on.

  9. CM McIntosh says:

    Too bad CA is now mexican territory. Let mexico worry about it.

  10. Hopefully, it will hit Jerry Brown right square in the a.ss……

  11. May want to spend some of state’s resources currently spent on providing and defending the ILLEGAL ALIENS and sanctuary cities on shoring up your damn dams! Maybe then, the rest of us may muster up some sympathy.
    I hope you all don’t need any disaster relief from Washington DC.

  12. The main problem was identified at the end of the article….”The lake is a central piece of California’s GOVERNMENT RUN water delivery network”….

  13. First droughts now floods? Almost like God is punishing them? Gee I wonder why?

  14. chrismireya says:

    Cue the “IT’S CLIMATE CHANGE” radical environmentalists in 3…2…1…

    It’s funny that they claimed that the drought “caused by climate change” wouldn’t be helped by winter rains. Now, they will likely blame the winter rains and massive snowfall on “climate change.”

  15. blenderrecipes says:

    Nice to know Jerry Brown is spending billions on his choo-choo train instead of water infrastructure.

  16. Brian Smyth says:

    I wish California would just hurry up and secede. I suppose you want President Trump and the rest of the country to bail you out again. Ask Mexico for help. You’re a drag on the rest of us.

  17. Governor Moonbeam should have spent our tax money on needed infrastructure repair than spending it on the Slow Speed Train to Nowhere.

  18. Stu Pedasso says:

    Here’s a link to the live scanner feed from Butte County SO if you have an interest: http://www.broadcastify.com/listen/feed/1929/web

  19. Nothing gets the Left more unhinged than laughing at them over their faux climate change, global warming, global cooling, micro-aggressions!

    Obama cared more about his climate change cult than he did about keeping Americans safe.

    Obama hates Americans, the Constitution, and free market capitalism. He destroyed our economy with measures like the ACA and immigration amnesty. The “Affordable” Care Act has been nothing short of a disaster. My health insurance bill is up to $450/month. (Compare this to my $25/month auto insurance from Insurance Panda or my $10/month renters insurance… both private enterprise!)

    His never-ending push to flood America with non-English speakers is motivated by his desire to see America become non-white majority, and therefore guarantee the left a permanent majority. His refusal to call Islamic terrorists Islamic terrorists is evidence that he secretly supports them. His total defiance of the constitution is proof that he wants to tear it up and write another constitution, based on the “values’ of black and brown people. And his hatred of capitalism is due to his Marxist upbringing, belief that such a system is “unfair”.

    He should be in jail. Lock him up, President Trump!

  20. Can we relax the drought regulations now?

  21. Where is the Boy Blunder Jerry Brown, more worried about how he can make this a
    sanctuary State, or is he in a state of confusion?

  22. 34% Of the nation’s welfare recipients live in California. California is third among states in per-capita spending on welfare. California Has The Highest Poverty Rate In The United States. Almost a Trillion dollars in debt. Maybe you should have spent some of that money on things besides illegals, just a thought. I say let it sink into the ocean. Hey California so much for being defiant and setting up more and more sanctuary cities huh. Maybe you can protest the water coming down on you. One of the worst managed states in the US maybe the worst. Do not come begging the rest of us to bail you out, literally. Looks like you will drown in your own stupidity. The Democrats own this mess, you have mismanaged your state into oblivion. We hate Trump…. um President Trump please bail us out. ROFL!!!! HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! God does work in mysterious ways!

  23. Robert Cat says:

    Since they’ve decided to secede, I assume they won’t be wanting any federal money or help with this major disaster situation. They can handle it themselves.

  24. THANK YOU environmentalists who have opposed EVERY attempt to build more dams and canals in Mexifornia. Hey, here’s a thought. Use illegal aliens or Rosie O’Donnell’s massive rump to plug any leaks.

  25. Aaaaand there’s more rain on the way next wee…erosion is going to wreak havoc on that dam spillway. Don’t quote me on it, but I’m thinking catastrophic failure of the entire thing. This scenario is the absolute worst it can get. Teton dam all over again. Multiplied a million times. Heavy rains, earthen dam, 100 year month long rain event, warm temps, massive sierra snowfall.

    …if this doesn’t fail…it will come dam close. (sorry for the pun) Seriously though…people downstream need to gtfo asap.

  26. Am I a terrible person if I just don’t care about what happens to Californians anymore?

  27. Ronnie Baker says:

    Officials and experts: Mt St Helens volcano will never blow,it is just letting off a Little steam.

    Good hands insurance people. But you do not have Volcano Insurance. We are sorry for you loss.

  28. I feel sorry for the residents and hope they survive this. The thing that cannot be ignored is that this is a direct result of our state government not taking care of basic infrastructure needs. If we cared more about people and less about the Delta smelt and high-speed trains to nowhere this would be a non-story.

  29. Jack Foobar says:

    I wish California would secede already. I’m tired of seeing your constant F ups.

  30. Tom Miller says:

    When this Dam goes, it will be the biggest flush ever.

  31. Is California’s drought over? This must be God’s punishment for the liberal destructiveness, hatred, and stupidity of California. Go my Lord.

  32. rytwinger says:

    Wash it ALL away. Just months ago I heard Cullifornians whining about water shortages, so the adage is true, be careful what you wish for. Who built that flood control dam anyway, some Bezerkeley grad?

  33. Rob Cleary says:

    Q) What do you call 500,000 drowning liberal pukes?

    A) A good start!!

  34. Let’s spend billions on supporting illegal immigrants, because they are more important than our roads and dams.

  35. So why has this dam not been maintained? It is not that the state does not have the money. It is because environmental wackos who are nothing more than godless communists do not like dams and they do not like too many people spoiling the view. The collapse of this dam serves two purposes – the restoration of the environment to its “natural state” and the elimination of hundreds of thousands of people. The nirvana of the left is once again achieved. The democrats want this dam to collapse and they want the people gone that is why it was never maintained. Keep voting democrat and one day you too will be gone.

  36. California didn’t submit an environmental impact statement on the dam’s collapse. Let’s hope the EPA fines them significantly. They deserve it.

  37. Grizz Mann says:

    Didn’t Obama have an infrastructure grant that could have fixed the dam during the drought, when water levels were low?

  38. richardjstacy says:

    The reason we are here is because of failure to build storage over the past 50 years for times of need, like this past drought, followed by water greed. Democrats fought and killed the Auburn Dam near where I have lived my 67 years. Then Democrats imported 20,000,000+ Mexicans, increasing water & energy demand. Democrats blow water down and out the Golden Gate to save smelt in the Sacramento River Delta, not even an indigenous species of tiny fish, claiming it is the cornerstone of the ecosystem. Then the drought comes and goes but Democrats were too worried to let out the water from the dams because they refuse to believe the drought is over. Then Oroville overfills and tragedy comes. Democrats are dangerous to our population over time. It’s become abundantly clear, and this is just one aspect of governance. Energy is another. Democrats fought and killed Rancho Seco nuclear plant, among others, and now we suffer energy shortages. I am not saying Democrats are stupid, just that they suffer a holistic fake-educated, environmentally short-sighted willful ignorance of reality. This is why California is in such bad shape. I implore Californians to stop the madness by voting Republican. Republicans have consistently been for smart water resource and energy development and management, not radical environmentalism. The proof is before them now if they’ve eyes to see it, ears to hear.

  39. if only jerry brown can find a way to link these haevy rain storms to global warming!

  40. They better hope those ‘plugs’ work. Although, it pales it comparison, 12 years back a reservoir, south of St Louis, MO atop Proffit Mountain used for electric generation, failed. A billion gallons of water was released in 12 minutes. The damage done by that 20 foot wall of water was incredible. Giant boulders were thrown about like ping pong balls. Fortunately, there was no loss of life. A breach of the Oroville Dam would be of Biblical proportions and costs hundreds of billions in damage.

  41. Gary Ferraro says:

    I’m waiting for the loons to blame President Trump.

  42. Remind anyone of New Orleans – levies- a during Katrina – Afterward they found out what a bunch of crooks they had running the place. Mayor Nagin – who everyone who called him a crook at the time was called a racist – is in prison – for being a crook.

  43. Moonbeam had better send those sanctuary freeloaders back to Mexico so he can afford a new dam,Trump wont write him a blank check like the democrats would have.He might be standing before trump with his hat in his hands sometime this week.