Repairs at California’s Oroville Dam, center of an last weekend’s emergency evacuation order, continue as the water levels in the lake steadily decline and the set flow rate is decreased.

[The Department of Water Resources] is reducing releases for two reasons. First, it needs lower water flows so it can get work crews stationed on the diversion pool, the stream directly beneath the spillway that leads into the Feather River. The pool has gotten clogged with debris from the giant crater that was discovered on the spillway Feb. 7, backing up water to the dam’s hydroelectric plant. That’s made it impossible to operate the power plant, which is capable of releasing water at 14,000 cfs.

The second reason is that, as the lake level decreases, it becomes harder to push water out of the spillway at a high rate.

Meanwhile, officials are reviewing the incident and the response and are coming to the conclusion that if there had been a catastrophic failure of the dam, thousands of people would have been trapped by the flood waters.

Six years ago, California’s water officials warned federal officials that the evacuation plans for the area were inadequate and needed improvements. Though some of the recommendations were adopted, those that included routine community briefings and improving escape routes were not…with obvious consequences:

The shortfalls in organization as well as infrastructure to quickly get residents out were on full display in the chaotic hours after the evacuation order. Residents found themselves caught in traffic jams for hours on clogged roads, leading some families to abandon their cars. While many local officials and ordinary people rushed to help direct traffic and staff emergency shelters, evacuees also reported seeing fistfights on gridlocked roads.

…Asked Friday whether residents immediately downstream would have time and warning to get out if the dam itself failed, Sheriff Kory Honea in Butte County, where Lake Oroville is located, answered, “it’s a very, very daunting challenge.”

“That is why we’re taking steps now to refine our notification plan and our evacuation plan, potential evacuation routes, in hope that we can give people more time to exit the area should that happen,” Honea said.

A good example of the challenges associated with rapid evacuations of large areas and population centers include jammed gas stations with limited fuel supplies.

Subsequently, some cars ran out of gas, contributing to the chaos and confusion.

CHP spokesman Ryan Lambert in Oroville said drivers themselves were a problem on Sunday night, slowing traffic in some instances and causing hazards. He listed the issues CHP was dealing with: “Unprepared citizens who were running out of gas and their vehicles were becoming disabled in the roadway. People were utilizing the shoulder, driving the wrong way. Traffic collisions were occurring. People fearing for their lives, not abiding by the traffic laws.”

“All combined, it created big problems. It ended up pure mass chaos.”

Another problem uncovered during the post emergency review process is that the manuals associated with dam operations have remained unchanged for nearly 50 years.

…Two of the biggest floods ever to hit the region have occurred since the Oroville Dam manual was written; on its sepia pages, it’s as if they never happened. The story is the same for all 54 of the state’s primary flood-control dams, whose manuals are 30 years old or older.

“California’s flood infrastructure is based on the hydrology of the past,” Jeffrey Mount of the Public Policy Institute of California told The Bee. “I don’t know a scientist anymore who thinks the future is going to look anything like the past.”

Unfortunately, Governor Jerry Brown was listening only to scientists who believed in man-made global warming, assumed that the drought would last forever, and wanted to divert resources to vanity projects and supporting illegal aliens.

If Californians don’t want to relive this scenario, possibly with an actual catastrophic failure, then they should review their choices in 2018 and remake the political infrastructure.


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