Oroville Dam Emergency Spillway Could be Used as Soon as Early Saturday

OROVILLE -- A different kind of thunder - rocking the night in Butte county in the midst of the latest round of storms.

It's the sound of more and more water rushing through the already cracked spillway on the Oroville dam.

Officials with the California Department of Water Resources announced Thursday that the reservoir's emergency spillway would likely be used, perhaps as soon as the early morning hours of Saturday.

"We've lived here all of our lives so I wasn't too worried about it but when they start cancelling school and stuff.. then you start thinking twice ... What is really going on that you don't know about?," asked Blake Holder.

School cancellation throughout Oroville based on flood concerns left the Holders and other families scrambling to craft a Friday childcare plan.

Akela Holder's happy to have a day off for any reason following her 17th birthday party tonight but when pressed about if she thought her town might flood her mood changed.

"Ummmm I don't know...I'm like between yes and no ... I don't know," she said, the smile draining from her face.

Her 4-year-old brother leaned in to kiss her shoulder.

That kiss may make things all better for Akela for a few minutes, but many around town don't know what to do with their uncertainty about the huge holes that developed along the bottom of the spillway Tuesday.

Those holes have since grown daily - holes in the spillway draining water from a lake that's risen to less than 20 feet away from its brim.

Full would be 3.5 million acre feet.

It's around 3.22 million.

Thursday night, operators increased the releases down the damaged spillway from 35,000 cubic feet per second to 40,000 cubic feet per second with another 7,000 cubic feet per second passing through the dam's hydroelectric power plant outlets. But those releases are not enough to keep up with the inflow.

"I think it's kind of crazy," said 13-year-old Lupita Sorio.

Lupita Sorio and her family drove in from Gridley to look at the display that has the state's department of water resources working over time to prepare for every scenario.

Saturday is the day when the region's latest storm is expected to start drying up, but it's also the day when the state may have to do something it's never done before - activate the emergency spillway on the Oroville dam.

The emergency spillway has not been used in Oroville Dam’s 48-year history, but Lake Oroville came within a foot of spilling into it in January 1997.

"We want to make sure that we're taking all necessary actions so we have alternatives as we move through not only this storm event, but also the weather conditions we have in the next 60 days," said Bill Croyle, DWR acting director.

That means moving in heavy equipment to remove debris from the emergency spillway, which is a wooded ravine that's never carried water.

The word from DWR and lawmakers is that life and property are not in danger.

"Is there concern... sure. Is it a pending disaster ? Not likely, but it deserves our imminent attention," said U.S. Representative John Garamendi, a democrat who covers California's third congressional district.

The DWR said it does not expect the releases from the reservoir to exceed the capacity of any downstream channels as water flows through the Feather River into the Sacramento River and on to the San Francisco Bay.