DWR Expresses Confidence That Oroville Threat Has Diminished, and Downstream Levees Will be Reinforced. And Here Comes the Rain!!

Power Transmission Towers

Here is Saturday morning’s installment of our update on the Oroville Dam spillway incident and more news about the valley.  In summary, Oroville’s Powerhouse is still not able to produce power; the emergency or auxiliary spillway remains stable; workers continue to add rock and concrete to address the erosion that led to the evacuations; the primary or service spillway is also stable, and is now  evacuating 70,000 cfs from the reservoir; but new storms have started to roll in.

As always, if you find this blog helpful or interesting, please feel free to share it with others who may be interested. And if you would like to be updated when we post a new entry, please add your email on the right or below where it says “stay connected.”

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Mandatory Evacuation Ends Below Oroville Dam, But the Flood Control System in the Valley Remains Strained

Bags of crushed rock ready to be dropped into damaged areas of Spillway. Dale Kasler/The Sacramento Bee

Bags of crushed rock ready to be dropped into damaged areas of Oroville Dam emergency spillway. Dale Kasler/The Sacramento Bee

Here is Wednesday morning’s installment of our update on the Oroville Dam spillway incident and more news about the valley. For background, please see our earlier blog posts which set the stage and provide context.  In sum, the mandatory evacuation is over; the emergency or auxiliary spillway remains stable; workers continue to add rock and concrete to address the erosion that led to the evacuations; the primary or service spillway is also stable, and is still evacuating 100,000 cfs from the reservoir; but new storms are forecasted to roll in starting Wednesday evening.

Because there is less news today, we have tried to provide some information on the weather and flood system operations.  As always, if you find this blog helpful or interesting, please feel free to share it with others who may be interested. And if you would like to be updated when we post a new entry, please add your email on the right where it says “stay connected.”

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“Dynamic” Situation at Oroville Dam: Valentine’s Day Update (and in other news….)

Oroville Emergency SpillwayHere is Tuesday morning’s installment of our update on the Oroville Dam spillway incident.  For background, please see our earlier blog posts, starting last Thursday, February 9, and most recently our update of February 13 which sets the stage and provides context.  In sum, the evacuation continues; the emergency or auxiliary spillway is stable; workers are adding rock to address the erosion that caused the evacuation; the primary or service spillway is also stable, and is currently evacuating 100,000 cfs from the reservoir; but new storms are forecasted to roll in starting Wednesday, and many people are still worried about how the reservoir and its spillways will handle the water.

Once again we have tried to share the important facts and the context, without hype, sensationalism, or blame.  If you find this helpful, please feel free to share it with others who may be interested.  And if you would like to be updated when we post a new entry, please add your email on the right where it says “stay connected.”

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A Scary Night for Those Below Oroville Dam; And The Worst May Not be Over.

On Saturday we said, “What a difference a day makes!”  And that is true again!  As of Sunday night at 11:00 pm when we wrote this we had been through several very scary hours and over a hundred thousand people had been evacuated from their homes.  Indeed, the facts are so fluid and the information so incomplete that we debated not posting at all.  But we ultimately decided to post what we know, again in a simple format to hopefully make it easily understandable for those trying to follow along.  But remember, there is always a risk that by the time you read this, it may be out of date.

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Uncontrolled Releases on Oroville Dam Were Unlikely From This Storm Event; Now Certain

Oroville SpillwayWhat a difference a day makes!  As of Friday afternoon, it appeared unlikely that Oroville Reservoir would rise enough for water to flow over the emergency spillway, as inflow into the lake had been declining since early Friday, the rain had stopped, and the primary spillway continued to be used to manage outflow. But the gaping hole in the spillway, coupled with concerns about downstream flooding, resulted in the story traveling all the way back to New York.  And with the latest inflow figures and DWR’s modified release schedule from the Primary Spillway, the emergency spillway actually started spilling on Saturday morning. Continue Reading

Is Oroville Reservoir Heading Toward Uncontrolled Releases?

The Oroville DamAs many of you know, the big news on Tuesday was that the spillway on Oroville Dam had developed a large crater from water eroding away the Oroville Spillway structure.  Based on the large hole, DWR stopped all flows down the Spillway to evaluate the damage.  Water users downstream started to get nervous as Oroville was rising quickly, and folks feared that water could come over the emergency spillway, which would be uncontrolled.

So this might be time to back-up and offer some context.  Oroville is on the Feather River and holds about 3.5 million acre-feet.  It was about 80% full when this happened, and the operators were releasing about 70,000 cfs to make room for the storm that was on its way in.  Inflow into Oroville has exceeded 200,00 cfs in the past, and the levees downstream have historically started to be stressed at flows approaching the 100-year event, or about 150,000 cfs.  Thus, the strategy was to release enough water to make room to hold back the peak of the latest storm.  In other words, the reservoir was to function as intended. Continue Reading

Should California Leave the NFIP and Create its Own Flood Insurance Program?

Flooded AreaResearchers at UC Davis recently concluded that California should consider leaving the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) and explore implementation of its own statewide flood insurance program in order to invest in risk reduction rather than premiums.  This is an idea that has been talked about for years by state and local flood management experts.  But does it make sense?

The National Flood Insurance Program

The U.S. Congress established NFIP with the passage of the National Flood Insurance Act of 1968. NFIP is a Federal program enabling property owners in participating communities to purchase insurance as a protection against flood losses in exchange for state and community floodplain management regulations that reduce future flood damages. Participation in the NFIP is based on an agreement between communities and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). If a community adopts and enforces a floodplain management ordinance to reduce future flood risk to new construction in floodplains, the government will make flood insurance available within the community as a financial protection against flood losses. Continue Reading

Part II – Our Thoughts on FEMA’s New Draft Regulations

ThoughtsThis is a follow-up to our blog post last week, “FEMA Issues Draft Regulatory Amendments To Implement President Obama’s Executive Order 13690 And The Federal Flood Risk Management Standard; Comments Due By October 21, 2016.”

FEMA’s Approach to Amending Its Regulations

Many of the proposed amendments to the regulations focus on the details for the implementation methodologies as well as the inter-relationship between them. For example, what should one do when there are contradictory scientific approaches? What should one do when the best available science indicates a flood elevation that is lower than would be used under the freeboard value approach? Is it practical to use the .2 percentage approach when only 18% of FEMA’s maps contain data on the .2% event? Based on these and other questions, on page 35 of the proposed amendment package FEMA proposes to make the freeboard value approach the standard approach for all events that are not critical actions, and to make the freeboard value approach the chosen approach for critical actions unless the agency finds that the climate-informed science approach results in a higher elevation. Continue Reading

FEMA Issues Draft Regulatory Amendments to Implement President Obama’s Executive Order 13690 and the Federal Flood Risk Management Standard; Comments Due by October 21, 2016

EightIntroduction

Executive Order 11988 (EO 11988) requires Federal agencies to avoid, to the extent possible, the long- and short-term adverse impacts associated with the occupancy and modification of floodplains where there is a practicable alternative. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is now proposing to amend its regulations (found in 44 CFR Part 9) which describes the traditional 8-step process that FEMA uses to implement EO 11988. The amendment is being driven by Executive Order 13690 (EO 13690), issued by President Obama in 2015 to address increased risks as a result of climate change, which changed the definition of “floodplain” for projects that are “Federally funded” (defined as actions involving the use of Federal funds for new construction, substantial improvement, or to address substantial damage to a structure or facility). In these cases, the new broader definition of floodplain (developed under one of three approaches described below) will likely result in a larger floodplain and a requirement to design projects such that they are resilient to a higher vertical elevation. However, for actions that don’t meet the definition of a Federally funded project, FEMA will continue to use the historical definition. Continue Reading

2016 Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) Advances in the Senate with a Good CBO Score

5 DucksIntroduction

The Senate’s Water Resources Development Act (WRDA – S.2848) would reduce the deficit by $6 million in its first decade, the Congressional Budget Office has said. This score makes it more likely that the bill may get floor time, although the very limited number of Congressional sessions between now and the election makes passage of the bill increasingly unlikely.

Discussion

WRDA is the act by which Congress authorizes new water resources projects, including new ports, locks and levee projects while also advancing improvements to the country’s municipal water programs. Once upon a time, WRDA was passed about every two years, but starting in the late 80’s the time between acts started slipping, culminating in acts in 2000, 2007, and 2014. The Republican leadership, in particular Congressman Schuster in the House, has been pushing to pass a bill this year, returning Congress to its every other year schedule. Supporting this effort is a series of Chief’s Reports that have been finalized, a necessary precursor to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers advancing flood risk reduction and ecosystem restoration projects.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scores bills based on their costs to the nation. The lower the score, the less costs, and the more likely that the act will receive floor time in light of the Majority’s PayGo (“pay as you go”) philosophy. The CBO has concluded that the Senate bill would cost $10.6 billion overall in its first decade. But because those are just authorizations, Congress would still need to appropriate funds. Continue Reading

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