What’s happening at Lake Oroville?

| February 12, 2017

No, I don’t mean — at least, not directly — the current problems with the concrete and emergency spillways, nor the evacuation. I mean the chart above.

Look at that chart. The solid color represents the historical average of the amount of water in Lake Oroville. The sharply rising blue line represents the current (2016-2017) volume of Lake Oroville. The straight blue line across the top represents the capacity of Lake Oroville. Lake Oroville is currently at 101% of capacity, which is why it’s having the spillway problems that it is.

Now, look again.

Lake Oroville is currently at 101% of capacity. But historically, at this point of the year (mid-February), it’s only at about 67% of capacity and 80% of what its peak will be for the year, typically around the start of June. The snowpack in the Sierras massively increased last month and is currently at 150%-200% of normal for this date. Also, several days of rain are in the forecast, starting on Wednesday.

Again, note the sharp increases in water volume over the past two months, as opposed to historical patterns. When the rain starts to fall, and the snow starts to melt, where is all that water going to go? Lake Oroville is full and will likely be for months to come. All that extra water coming in has got to go somewhere.

UPDATE: Found this footage that shows the ’emergency’ spillway in action. The concern is that if too much water goes over the emergency spillway, it could erode the ground below it and cause the emergency spillway to collapse. Look at the size of that wall, and try to imagine what would happen if any part of that started to fail.


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Category: Disasters, Engineering, Environment, Main

About the Author ()

Webster is Principal and Founder at Bruce F. Webster & Associates, as well as an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at Brigham Young University. He works with organizations to help them with troubled or failed information technology (IT) projects. He has also worked in several dozen legal cases as a consultant and as a testifying expert, both in the United States and Japan. He can be reached at bwebster@bfwa.com, or you can follow him on Twitter as @bfwebster.

Comments (2)

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  1. Bruce Henderson says:

    Oh sweet California, how I miss your beaches and mountains, but your stupid government drove me away.

    Exhibit 1 of stupid – Let’s build a crappy high speed train to nowhere. Build more infrastructure to capture water in a chronically drought ridden state? Forget about it! Maybe maintain the few dams we do have in place? Not a chance.

    There is a notion of a “preference cascade” where everyone wants things to go as they are used to, because they are used to it. Then something bad happens, and it causes the public to re-evaluate their notion of status quo.

    My dear wife wrote off California as the land of the stupid, where I said it was land of the complacent. A big, infrastructure related disaster like this is the kind of catalyst that causes people in places like California to examine the rational for perpetuating the status quo in government and societal priorities.

    I have been to the Sierra this winter. California – you are not ready for what is coming. The time to get ready were the latest string of dry years. Dam every river, flood control every body of water. Your hubris led you to believe you did not have to fear nature, but you should have recognized that nature is more potent in California than most places. She is coming for you, and there is nothing you can do about it now.

    Just a few weeks ago, your political clowns were loudly proclaiming their burning desire to go it alone through succession. Now the rest of the United States invites you to live up to your boast and handle this yourself. I note with some disgust that your governor has already come, hat in hand like some vassal, to President Trump -the most reviled figure in California politics. But I am sure we are going to bail you out. Because America LOVES California, even when it acts like a stupid, entitled brat.

    If history is a worthy professor, this may be the first of a series of calamities to correct California’s over inflated sense of self. Please see California history 1840-1910.