Lake Oroville going dry, but why?

Once full was the Oroville Lake.

Now empty. How much does it take?

No pumped power galore

for the windmills to store.

Blame Climate change, not your mistake.

In 2016 then Governor Jerry Brown declared that California was in a permanent state of drought, so they might as well atart to prepare for water rationing.

The Lake Oroville Dam had a large crack in its spillway, and it was part of the regular maintenance to fix it, but since they were in a permanent drought the lake would never again be full, so there was no need, and certainly no hurry to fix it. Then in 1917 it started to rain again, the lake started to overflow, and instead of a less than 20 million maintenance task it became an over 1 Billion dollar rescue effort with helicopters trying to dump stones in the eroded parts of the dam

That was in early 2017. then in early 2019 it was full again, and with proper conservation measures there was enough water for 5 to 7 years with normal rainfalls from then on, so not to worry. Look where the lake levels are now:

Lake Oroville water level 8 8 639.67 feet

power. But that is not allSince today’s level is below the intake for hydro-power there will be no power from Oroville dam until spring melting season, thus depraving California about 440 MW of power. But that is not all, it also eliminates Oroville Dam of 117 MW power as a Hydro-power storage “battery” for excess wind power, so more wind turbines will have to be shut off when the wind is blowing since there are no customers for excess power. On the other hand, when the wind is not blowing it will have to be replaced by coal or natural gas, which are in insufficient supply. The future is full of brownouts, and rotating blackouts.

This is how the Oroville Lake looks now:

What is most galling is that of the water released in March of this year, before farmers really started to use water, 91% of the released water went into the San Francisco Bay to save the Delta Smelt, a totally useless fish, but protected. For the moment I can not think of a more inept way to run a water and energy business.

More trouble for Oroville Dam, a Limerick.

More trouble for Oroville Dam

Debris caused a water log-jam

Got a week-long reprieve

to remove the debris.

A scene of increasing bedlam.

The Oroville Dam is in more trouble than thought. Between one half and one million cubic yards of debris is clogging up the diversion pool causing the power plant to be shut down until it is cleared. The debris is all from erosion from the failing spillways which shows the erosive power of water not properly channelled. In addition they continue work on the emergency spillway and will attempt to shore up the breach in the main spillway.

920x1240It is a race against time. The upstream dams are all full, so all the snow-melt will fill the Oroville Dam back in no time, and there is at least one more major rain event coming down the pineapple express. The snow-pack is already way over normal for the season, so both spillways will have to be used again, and soon.

Will they succeed with the task in time?

Keep the bags packed if you live downstream. And please, pray!

Oroville Dam, a disaster in waiting? A Limerick.

The water from Oroville dam

comes down like a battering ram.

They skipped maintenance, when

it was drought. That was then.

Repairs? Always bill Uncle Sam!

On May 31, 1889 The South Fork dam failed and unleashed 20,000,000 tons of water that devastated Johnstown, PA.  The flood killed 2,209 people, and is remembered as one of the worst dam disasters to have ever befallen innocent and unaware people.

The dam was small by today’s standard, releasing only 16,220 acre-feet of water. Compare this to the water behind Lake Oroville Dam, 3,500,000 acre-feet, and another 370,000 acre feet of rain expected in the next few days.


Right now the dam is releasing 80 to 100,000 cubic feet of water a second, or about 2 acre-feet per second, about 6 times the capacity of the power station, which is rated at 835 MW. This means the release is about 5.5 GW of power rushing down and eroding the new spillway channel carved out by up to 7.5 million horse-power of destructive force. Normally this energy is absorbed as heat in a functional spillway, but if unleashed, much of its power is erosion force. The new channel of water, mixed with debris choked the normal water outlet from the power station and its diversion pool, so the power has been turned off since the emergency began.

For now, the main dam seems to be undamaged, but if more rains come, and there are 2 more major storms lined up coming from Japan and Taiwan with torrential rains, so this scare is far from over. Meanwhile, residents downstream are told to have their bags packed, and listen to emergency radio every hour, if the spillway gives way much further, this is going to be big.

The repair bill for damage done so far is probably a quarter billion dollars, not counting the cost of the evacuation. Proper maintenance would probably have cost less than 20 million dollars. This is about par for  California politicians.

The original spillway is now totally diverted by erosion.



The spillway while it was still functioning as planned

Lake Oroville dam in more trouble. A Limerick.

Lake Oroville fills up again

Ten trillions more gallons of rain

Will the spillway give way?

It’s too early to say,

while permanent drought fears remain.

In 2005 environmental groups and structural engineers pointed out that the emergency spillway was in dire need of being reinforced, or the whole dam would fail if it was ever used. The claim was ignored, but the stimulus package of 2009 was looking for shovel ready projects, so  more than 32 million dollars was offered for dam repairs, but the Sacramento politicians chose instead to use some of that money on beautification of side-walks and a set of bike-ways for the University of California. Thanks to Climate change the spillway would never be used, and California was entering a state of permanent drought.

So much for spending billions of dollars of climate change research. A quick look at the flood of 1862 would have given them reason to keep the dams in good repairs. Now the cost of repairing Oroville Dam will run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

If a new event like 1862, the total cost to California could be up to 700 Billion dollars, part of that due to failing dams,  unless the dams are reinforced and properly maintained. The rain damage may be bigger than the damage from “the next big earthquake” another sure thing.

Meanwhile, due to debris, the 835 MW power station is out of commission, so all the water has to go down the spillway rather than generating electricity. Lake Oroville Dam has the ideal peak power plant, so they lose more than a million dollars a day in revenue as well.

California is in big trouble, and the politicians are still sticking their heads in the sand hoping it will not happen on their watch.