Lake Oroville Near 100% Full, Emergency Overflow Imminent

February 10th, 2017 by Roy W. Spencer, Ph. D.

With a winter of phenomenal heavy rains and snow (over 400 inches so far at some Sierra Nevada locations), Lake Oroville 65 miles north of Sacramento is literally entering uncharted territory in its 50 year history.

As the following chart shows, the reservoir is rapidly approaching its design capacity:

Lake Oroville water levels in different years, showing the current level is unprecedented for so early in the year, and rapidly approaching a 100% full state.

While the reservoir has been nearly full in some previous years, note that this occurred in early summer, after mountain snowmelt. We have not even reached snowmelt season yet, suggesting a continuing flooding problem in the coming months.

A few days ago engineers reassured us there was still 20% of the reservoir unfilled. Then yesterday morning it was 90% full. This morning at 5 a.m. it was 97% full, and at the rate it is filling, tonight or tomorrow it will likely overflow the emergency spillway for the first time ever. Here’s a Google Earth image of the dam in April 2015 (when the reservoir was only 50% full); the wooded area to the left of the narrow concrete spillway is where the water will likely overflow this weekend:

To make matters worse, the concrete spillway has been badly damaged due to partial failure, which will likely get only worse as it is used to avoid the emergency spillway for as long as possible:

If water overflows down the emergency spillway, there will be a mess created in the Feather River due to soil, rock, and tree debris, threatening young salmon. The Feather River then flows into the Sacramento River farther downstream. Emergency officials are beginning to discuss evacuation preparations downstream.

38 Responses to “Lake Oroville Near 100% Full, Emergency Overflow Imminent”

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  1. bob sykes says:

    The spillway problem is severe. Any significant overflow will erode the hillside below the break, and depending on the underlying strate a partial collapse of the hillside is possible, which might threaten the integrity of the dam itself.

  2. Norman says:

    Scary situation for those downstream!

    I wonder if the heavy rains will now be blamed on climate change?

    We will have to wait on the media.

    • David Appell says:

      Getting your attack in early, huh Norman?

      • Gordon Robertson says:

        DA…”Getting your attack in early, huh Norman?”

        Norman is talking about California, a state filled with loonies who support Hillary Clinton. In California, it does not matter that Bill Clinton messed around extensively on Hillary, even having sex in the Oval Office with an employee. In fact they’d applaud him for that while forgiving Hillary for ‘standing by her man’ and blaming the women for leading him astray.

        Such is her judgement that she supports catastrophic climate change theory as do most Californians. Hillary is so into her belief on it that when John Christy of UAH testified at a hearing as a skeptic, she glared at him and talked to him insultingly.

        Neither Hillary nor Obama wanted to hear an alternatives to their mental conditioning on the topic. The fact that both swallowed the IPCC pseudo-science hook, line and sinker is testament to their inability to weigh up evidence.

        Had Hillary won, there would soon be a statute on the books forbidding any US citizen from offering a skeptical point of view on climate change theory. Obama had already started the program by calling on US citizens to confront ‘climate deniers’, whatever that meant. He also had a hidden agenda called a Climate Action Plan which he kept hidden from Congress.

  3. John says:

    Would It be wiser just to open the current spillway to the max flow it’s going to need to be totally rebuilt anyway. Instead of causing more environmental damage using the emergency spillway.

    • Dr No says:

      Meanwhile, here in Australia:
      The heatwave across the country is expected to worsen over the weekend, with Rural Fire Services warning of potentially catastrophic fire conditions.
      The Bureau of Meteorology said New South Wales could face its hottest February day on record, as temperatures are expected to reach 47 degrees Celsius in western parts of the state.
      Heatwaves kill far more people than other natural disasters.

      • DHMacKenzie says:

        Meanwhile, here in Canada:
        Cold causes peoples toes and feet to be amputated…could link to homeless people’s frozen bodies found as well.
        We await improved global warming conditions…

        • David Appell says:

          Why isn’t Canada taking care of its homeless, instead of leaving them outside to freeze?

          • Gordon Robertson says:

            DA…”Why isnt Canada taking care of its homeless, instead of leaving them outside to freeze?”

            We have shelters for the homeless and we open up special accommodations in extreme weather.

            The problem stems from the fact that many homeless should really be in care homes or even mental institutions. Here in British Columbia, the uber-right wing government emptied out the mental institutions years ago, leaving many people homeless.

            These right-wing loonies brought in the first carbon tax in Canada. As I told you, the money goes to private companies. While presenting the carbon tax, our finance minister, who one lawyer referred to as a ‘West End Barbie Doll’ due to her superficiality, wore a $600 pair of green high heels she had purchased for her speech.

            When offered accommodations, many homeless outright refuse to go indoors. Agoraphobia is a fear of open spaces. Many homeless seem to have a phobia about being indoors.

            It’s incredibly sad. This black-hearted government has the highest level of child poverty in Canada yet their leader ran on a platform of helping families. She failed to make it clear she was talking only of wealthy families.

            Even our Prime Minister ran on a platform of helping the middle class. He said nothing about the poor or the working class. He’s the one who was always cosying up to Obama.

  4. Dr No says:

    Meanwhile, here in Australia number 2:

    Towns across southern Western Australia are bracing for more rain with severe weather warnings in place for large portions of the state.
    It comes after heavy rain throughout the Wheatbelt and South West regions caused widespread flooding on Friday and forced some residents to evacuate.
    Earlier, Perth received its second highest rainfall on record, with more than 114 millimetres falling to 9:00am on Friday morning.

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      dr no…”Towns across southern Western Australia are bracing for more rain with severe weather warnings in place for large portions of the state”.

      You make it sound like that’s not the norm in Australia. You are at one end of the ENSO system as it extends to the west coast of South America. ENSO causes droughts and floods.

      Your weather is bound to be upset following a major El Nino. We are getting it up here in Canada albeit with extreme, record breaking cold weather.

  5. Lokenbr says:

    Hell fire and brimstone.

  6. spalding craft says:

    WUWT has a similar article, with a cool video showing construction of the dam.

  7. Mike M. says:

    It seems that the water level is not really unprecedented. As shown in Roy’s first figure, it reached similar levels in January 1997, but then was quickly drawn down after the flood passed. The reservoir is normally kept at no more than 80% capacity in winter to allow room for spring snow melt; that can also be seen in the figure. What seems to have happened is that they were keeping the level at 80%, then the spillway problem happened and they shut the spillway down while they tried to figure out what to do. So the reservoir has been filling up. There are other outlets, but they are not adequate to release the full flow being received.
    It seems they regard the emergency spillway as a last resort.
    Hopefully they will be able to get through this without the spillway problem triggering a disaster. Scary.

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      Mike M….”It seems they regard the emergency spillway as a last resort”.

      That’s because California has little in the way of civil emergency infrastructure in place. They don’t want to spend money on frivolous matters like fire departments and such.

      They could have been up there re-enforcing the spillway. They likely gave the construction bid to the lowest bidder who fleeced them by using the cheapest construction techniques available.

      As someone pointed out in an earlier article, California has failed to build reservoirs for times like this when water is plentiful.

      Every year, in the LA area, like clockwork, they have brush fires that wipe out property. They do nothing to create fire breaks or install fire fighting equipment and personnel.

      The LA area has some of the wealthiest people on the planet and the most reluctant to spend money through taxes to implement proper infrastructure.

      Californians in the LA area seem to have other priorities like draining scant water supplies to fill their swimming pools.

  8. pete says:

    This must be the Californian permanent draught condition that the alarmists have been predicting and which has finally arrived.

  9. Dr No says:

    Meanwhile, in Australia the heat continues:

    “As Queenslanders deal with the summer heat today, records are predicted to tumble on Sunday in the state’s south, the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) says.

    Temperatures today have been forecast to peak at 36 degrees Celsius in Brisbane and Logan, and 40C in Ipswich. A number of towns in southern Queensland will spike at above 40C today, including Goondiwindi, which is expected to reach 44C, Cunnamulla at 45C, and Thargomindah and Birdsville to swelter at 46C. On Sunday, Brisbane and Logan are predicted to reach 39C, while Ipswich will hit 43C.

    BOM forecaster Michelle Berry said temperatures on Sunday looked set to break records across the state.

    “We’re going to February records tumbling for instance Birdsville we have a forecast of about 47 degrees for Sunday, which hopefully will be the top.”

    Meanwhile, Queensland’s power grid will withstand the weekend’s heatwave thanks to high levels of household solar, a leading energy researcher says.”

    • Gordon Robertson says:

      Dr no…”records are predicted to tumble on Sunday in the states south…”

      For New South Wales:

      The highest maximum temperature recorded was 49.8 C (121.6 F) at Menindee in the states west on 10 January 1939.

      Note…1939. It seems even modern Aussie meteorologists are alarmists. There records seem to go back to only 2000.

  10. RAH says:

    Well guys it looks like all those rosy predictions are wrong according to this guy. The primary spillway has been closed off due to erosion of the banks supporting the dam and now the emergency spillway will be used. He also says there is one heck of a lot more water coming than some here have claimed. If this is correct then it’s going to get damned messy for sure and possibly disastrous.

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