OROVILLE (KPIX 5) — Two years after the crisis in Oroville, the dam’s reconstructed spillway may be nearing its first test.
“Assuming mother nature keeps putting down a lot of precip and snowpack, there’s a chance the season, certainly,” said Erin Mellon, a spokesperson with the California Department of Water Resources.
With Lake Oroville finally creeping back towards capacity, DWR is again watching the math that flows down the Feather River. That’s the rain and snowmelt moving into the lake, and the water can can be moved out of it.
“Right now, we are actually releasing from Hyatt Tower plant at about 5000 ft.³ per second,” Mellon explained of the flows currently being allowed downstream. But while the hydro plant is humming, another atmospheric river over this region could quickly shift attention to the newly-constructed spillway.
“Thicker, has more concrete, has more anchors and rebar in the original design,” Mellon said of the new spillway. “We spent an off a lot of time and effort, I had the best minds in people on the reconstruction, and that’s why we are confident that it is going to be able to handle flows.”
And no one is paying more attention to all of this, than the people living just down river in Oroville. “Absolutely, we’ve been watching this project unfold very closely,” said Oroville Mayor Chuck Reynolds. “I think the people are confident with actually being able to see what’s my name there instead of just trusting something that was built 50 years ago.”
Reynolds said the town’s trust was shaken during that harrowing evacuation in 2017, a situation he described as “a panic.” While the state still has some trust to restore here, most people are confident in the reconstruction job, according to Reynolds.
“I believe that when we spend $2 billion, we should have a state-of-the-art project; we should have something that’s going to work for us,” said Reynolds. “And I trust that wholeheartedly.”
The Department of Water Resources said it knows people across the region are paying attention to the dam, the weather, and the new spillway. It plan to inform the public if the spillway is to be used.