Use of Oroville Dam’s Half-Finished Spillway Now ‘Unlikely’

A drone view from April 3 shows Oroville Dam’s main spillway and Lake Oroville’s water level at 794.30 feet — 19 feet below the bottom of the spillway gates and 36 feet below the level that would trigger flood control releases.  (Ken James/California Department of Water Resources)

We’ll have to wait awhile to see how the rebuilt Oroville Dam spillway stands up to water pounding down its 3,000-foot-long concrete chute.

After giving the public a heads-up that the half-repaired structure might be pressed into service because of last week’s expected heavy rains, the agency announced Sunday that use of the spillway is now “unlikely.”

The extra attention to lake levels grows out of last year’s spillway breach — a near-calamity that triggered mass evacuations and exposed the flood-control outlet’s history of poor design, construction and maintenance.

DWR issued last week’s advisories after a 50-foot rise in Lake Oroville in the second half of March — due to a series of storms and dam operators’ decision to limit releases from the reservoir to almost nothing.

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