Northern California

Storm Should Not Pose Threat to ‘Stable' Oroville Dam: State Water Agency

Crews were preparing more bags of boulders early Thursday morning to drop into the hole of the emergency spillway to shore it up

Water levels were at 32 feet below the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam, Thursday morning, dropping by six feet from the night before, state officials said, as a storm began raining down Thursday morning.

The goal is to drop the Northern California reservoir's water level 50 feet overall by Sunday, which would mark a week after an emergency was declared at the nation's tallest dam due to a damage on both its spillways, prompting a massive evacuation. 

The damaged main spillway "has been stable for a number of days" and the immediate danger has passed for those living downstream of the damaged dam, Department of Water Resource acting Chief Bill Croyle said at a news conference. But he added that the cementing rocks in place at the nation's tallest dam is a "short-term and long-term fix."

Croyle said the storms this week won't pose a threat to the emergency spillway other than to slow crews.

"We're comfortable where we're at for the storms forecasted," said Chris Orrock, a spokesman for the Department of Water Resources.

That is good news for the nearly 200,000 people who live in that area of Northern California who were allowed back into their homes Tuesday, but put on notice that they may be evacuated again.

At a news conference on Thursday at noon, Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said that the National Guard was "at the ready" only if an evacuation order is issued. The only job the Guard has been asked to do so far, however, is to remove cots that were set up in the temporary shelters.

Crews from the DWR, CalFire and the Butte County Sheriff’s Office have been working round the clock since Sunday, when the dam’s emergency spillway looked like it would crumble, possibly leading to a flood for the homes and business of residents who live below.

Despite the inclement weather on Thursday, crews were preparing bags of boulders early in the morning to drop into the hole of the emergency spillway to shore it up. Thousands of tons of rocks have already been used. Barges and cranes were still removing debris and sediment from a diversion pool.

Rain was in the forecast through at least Monday.

While many residents returned to their home, others were too scared to chance it.

"I tried to sleep here last night, and I just couldn't sleep," said Matthew Prumm, 34. He estimates that "there would be a 30-foot wall of water coming from the spillway" if there were a failure.

He said Wednesday that friends kept sending text messages, including one that said: "If you're still in town, get the hell out because I know people who say it's going to breach if the storm is heavy enough.'"

Prumm left home around midnight to stay with his parents, who live at a higher elevation. He's got a house in the mountains and will stay there at least until the upcoming storms pass.

"I packed bins and loaded them into my car. I had to feed my chickens and tend to a few things. I'm not hanging out here for long," he said.

Amanda Warren echoed the same sentiment.

"It's just too unpredictable," she said. "Things can go wrong at any time."

So Warren packed up her belongings on Thursday and moved to higher ground.

"I'm trying to save what I can save because I'm terrified and feel I'm going to lose everything," she said.

Warren is seeking a sense of "normal" for herself and her family, she admitted, just "not at home."

NBC Bay Area's Jodi Hernandez contributed to this report.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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