Lake Oroville

Crewmembers on board the International Space Station recently took this picture of the Oroville dam in northern California. The dam has made headlines recently when heavy flooding damaged part of the structure’s emergency spillway, causing communities downriver to evacuate.

In the image above, the emergency spillway can be seen releasing water from Lake Oroville, the dam’s reservoir.



OROVILLE — Immediate evacuations have been ordered for residents of the low levels of Oroville and areas downstream, according to officials with the California Department of Water Resources.

Officials say a hazardous situation is developing with the Oroville Dam auxiliary spillway. The operation of the auxiliary spillway has led to severe erosion that could lead to a failure of the auxiliary spillway.

Officials are anticipating a failure of the auxiliary spillway at Oroville Dam within the next 60 minutes.

Failure will result in an uncontrolled release of flood waters from Lake Oroville.

The DWR is increasing water released to 100,000 cubic feet per second.

Immediate evacuation from the low levels of Oroville and areas downstream have been ordered.

The National Weather Service has issued a flash flood warning for possible dam failure. Areas affected include Oroville, Palermo, Gridley, Thermalito, South Oroville, Oroville Dam, Oroville East and Wyandotte.

Residents should evacuate in a northward direction, toward Chico.

The flash flood warning is in effect until 4:15 p.m. Monday.

Evacuations have also been ordered for parts of Yuba County including Hallwood, Marysville, Olivehurst, Linda and Plumas Lake. Those in Yuba County are asked to not travel north toward Oroville. Travel east, south or west. Yuba City and Marysville are under evacuation.

Parts of Sutter County has ordered immediate evacuations for Live Oak, Yuba City, Nicolaus and all communities along the Feather River basin.

A second evacuation center has been set up at the Colusa County Fairgrounds. There are trailer spaces as well as indoor space at the Main Exhibit Building. 1303 10th Street in Colusa.

For evacuation information, Butte County residents can dial 2-1-1 from landline or cell phones. Yuba or Sutter residents can call 1-866-916-3566.

A press conference is scheduled at 6 p.m. at the Lake Oroville Nature Center at 917 Kelly Ridge Road.

Oroville Dam Spillway Failure Within Next Hour

The emergency spillway at Lake Oroville dam is about to fail. This means at least 30 feet of water are about to spill into low lying areas. There’s an immediate evacuation for all residents at risk. You know already if this is you, but I know some of you live near here and might not have the TV on. Please stay safe and get out. You have two hours max. This really isn’t something to fuck around with.

Also, in general, if you live near the Sacramento River this probably means the shit is going to hit the fan during next week’s storm. Please have a flood evac plan ready. The situation is not ideal.


The difference between knowing something and seeing something

Story by Diana Marcum

Photos by Robert Gauthier

I once interviewed Woody Guthrie’s daughter, and she told me her father believed in the power of names.

Sometimes he would sing just a name over and over as a device of honor. I thought about this at the top of Oroville Dam.

There was a plaque with the names of 34 men who had died in the ′60s while building the dam, the highest in the United States.

Thirty-four. I looked it up later – there was a fiery tunnel crash that killed four. But no accident with mass casualties. This was construction workers in dangerous jobs mostly dying one by one: Orlin. Buel. Bennie. Elmer. Eino.  “Slim.”

Rob, the photographer, was nearby filming a black trash bag billowing in the wind on a dam that affects the fate of all of California. It was a hot wind that would whip up, disappear, then blow again. The temperature was well on its way to the day’s high of 106. The sky to the west was hazy with smoke from wildfires.

We were the only people in sight. (Far below us people were working inside the massive dam and power plant.)

It would be a spectacular evening full of strange clouds and a blue moon that would draw joggers to the top of the dam and fishing fans to the water.

But for now, it felt haunted. Because there’s this disconnect between knowing something and seeing something.

The lake is at 33% capacity, and photos of Oroville’s drop have been published for years. But, still, that first glimpse: My eyes traveled from the treeline down-down-down burnt-orange cliffs and finally to the water. The houseboats crowded on the narrowed lake looked like they were cars in a choo-choo train.

“Oh God,” we both said.

At the first parking lot, we could see a busy dock far (far) below. There didn’t seem to be a way to get there other than by boat, until we watched dockworker E.J. Pulley.

He jumped from rock to rock down the hillside like he was skating, then pulled himself across the last chasm on a suspended cable.

He gave a shrug about his route to work.

“It’s been like this for years now,” he said. “But if the lake gets any lower, we won’t go down. It gets too dangerous.”

At the next marina, a boat ramp still reached water. A family waited their turn to launch, in a boat on a trailer in an asphalt parking lot, already wearing their life vests.

I went down to the water to throw a stick for Murphy, navigating large rocks, then dried mud –  empty ketchup packets and clothing tags set in it like fossils – then black, wet mud as sticky as thousands of pieces of bubblegum. 

We’ve seen a lot of low lakes this trip. But this was different. Oroville is the great-granddaddy centerpiece of the State Water Project.

If you live in California, chances are very good you’re somehow tied to Lake Oroville: It supplies drinking water to more than 23 million people from Napa to San Diego, protects the Sacramento Valley from floods, irrigates the Central Valley and flushes salt from the delta. Only Shasta can hold more water.

And there’s boating and swimming.

A big hunk of Oroville, a city of 16,000, depends on summer tourists for a living.

In June, the Oroville Chamber of Commerce put out a plea for people to come visit – letting them know there’s still some water.

People aren’t coming as often – but maybe they should: Lake Oroville’s drop has become a symbol of the California drought. 

And there’s a difference between knowing something and seeing it.


Don’t pray for rain – pray for snow

Story by Diana Marcum

Photos by Robert Gauthier

We looked up at the green road sign for Tamarack, population 9.

It felt like paying homage to the snow gods. Tamarack holds the U.S. record for the deepest snow (454 inches in 1911) and the most Sierra snow in one season (884 inches in the winter of 1906-07).

All the exhortations to pray for rain could be more precisely honed to this: Pray for snow.

C'mon, Tamarack!

It’s snow that holds the water through the winter and come spring melts into gurgling creeks and rivers that fill the reservoirs below. Melted snow is 30% of California’s water supply.

The snowpack this year was the lowest on record. In fact, by some counts, it hit zero percent of normal. The state didn’t even bother with the last survey of the season because there wasn’t enough snow to measure.

This is where it all starts: the top of the watershed.

Driving through the Stanislaus National Forest, we saw pine trees lined up along the road like they were arranged for class photos: the little guys in front, upperclassmen in the back.

In the clearings, there were wildflowers – lacy white clusters and lavender pinwheels with a gold pompom in the middle.

Arlene, who had checked us into a 1960s-era ski lodge in Bear Valley late at night, and then was our waitress at breakfast, had told me we’d see a lot of wildflowers. But she had to repeat it three times because I kept hearing “wildfires.”

So many places we’d passed through were burning. The Rocky fire up by Clear Lake was at 54,000 acres, with 12,000 evacuations. The Wragg fire at Lake Berryessa had jumped containment.  The horse ranch there that we wrote about – home of rescued racehorse Coach Bob – had been evacuated a second time, but escaped the flames.

The morning we left Lake Oroville for the mountains, Murphy had roughhoused with a division of U.S. Forest Service firefighters who said they were missing their dogs back home. One showed me a photo of his 5-month-old German shepherd named Moose.

They were on my mind later that day when I read that a Forest Service firefighter had died while battling a fire near Modoc.

There was no smoke haze here. The sky was bright blue. Pure white clouds exploded in puffs, backlit by the sun like some painting of a heavenly connection.

 A fallen tree lies at the feet of others, months after the Washington Fire burned more than 17,000 acres.

The air was moist, the meadows a breathtaking green. Everything looked – watered.

“I feel almost guilty, seeing this,” said Rob, the photographer. “It’s hopeful. But it’s also like ‘Is this it? Is this the last little bit of the state that’s left? Is it the end of the match?’”

We drove on to Utica Lake in the Spicer Meadow Reservoir area, which also held Union, Alpine, Duck, Rock, Mud, Sword and Lost lakes.

It was a long, flat stretch of perfect between two dams. On the dark blue water there was a red kayak, a long green canoe, a few silver fishing boats and soon Murphy.

The clouds were moving, whites and grays in a do-si-do.  But then all the gray clouds gathered into a charcoal mass on one side. The lake was divided, half in sun, half in shade, with a line down the middle. There was a boom of thunder echoing off granite, and a beat later, cold sprinkles of rain.

I turned my face up like someone on a road trip that mostly went through parched, fire-prone places. Everyone on the lake started coming in because of lightning danger. Everyone except my dog.

I finally lured him out with a stick, but when I tried to grab his collar he ran through a nearby campground and back toward the water. I got him to the car only with the help of a child who offered Murphy his peanut-butter sandwich.

Rob already had the motor running, eager to chase lightning. We started driving. The cold drops of water on the warm road made a low swirling fog of condensation. The trees were shadowed blue-gray and there was the soft percussion of dripping pines and aspens.

It was just an afternoon thunderstorm, a common summer thing in the Sierra. It wouldn’t keep and hold like snow. But after more than two weeks in the drylands, it was one of the prettiest things I’ve ever seen.

Before And After: Statewide Drought Takes Toll On California’s Lake Oroville Water Level

Caption:OROVILLE, CA - JULY 20: In this before-and-after composite image, (Top) The Enterprise Bridge passes over full water levels at a section of Lake Oroville near the Bidwell Marina on July 20, 2011 in Oroville, California. (Photo by Paul Hames/California Department of Water Resources via Getty Images) OROVILLE, CA - AUGUST 19: (Bottom) The Enterprise Bridge passes over a section of Lake Oroville that is nearly dry on August 19, 2014 in Oroville, California. As the severe drought in California continues for a third straight year, water levels in the State’s lakes and reservoirs is reaching historic lows. Lake Oroville is currently at 32 percent of its total 3,537,577 acre feet. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

UNITED STATES, Oroville : Houseboats are moored on a shrinking arm of the Oroville Lake reservoir which is now at less than 25 percent capacity as a severe drought continues to affect California on May 24, 2015.  California has recently announced sweeping statewide water restrictions for the first time in history in order to combat the region’s devastating drought, the worst since records began.           AFP PHOTO/ MARK RALSTON                        

Study: Western US drought caused Earth to rise 0.16 inches

Los Angeles Times: The ongoing drought in the western United States has caused the earth to lift up about 0.16 inches over the last 18 months, a new study found.

Researchers found an estimated 63 trillion gallons of groundwater was lost since the start of 2013.

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Photo: A section of Lake Oroville is seen nearly dry in Oroville, Calif., on Aug. 19, 2014 (Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)


Serious algae outbreaks have hit more than 20 states this summer. Organisms are shutting down beaches in Florida, sickening swimmers in Utah and threatening ecosystems in California.

The blooms are a normal part of summer, but the frequency, size and toxicity this year are worse than ever.

And water managers are rattled.

“Everyone’s on edge with the cyanobacteria,” says Bev Anderson, a scientist with the California Water Resources Control Board.

Emails reporting outbreaks of cyanobacteria — or blue-green algae — fill Anderson’s inbox every morning.

The algae is showing up in lakes and big reservoirs like Shasta Lake and Lake Oroville. In some places, it looks like someone poured a giant can of green paint into the water. And the smell can be rank.

Poisonous Algae Blooms Threaten People, Ecosystems Across U.S.

Photos: Lesley McGlurg/KQED


From top: Landon Watson feels the freedom of summer as he joins his brothers on a trip to Grizzly Hideout campground, a beautiful spot on the river recently bought by his father, Robert, who vacationed there as a child. Bryce, Morgan, Tanner and Landon Watson jump into Indian Creek. Landon dries off after a swim. A freight train rolls through a complex of steel bridges at the North Fork of the Feather River in Plumas County National Forest. In Taylorsville, Andrea West looks over the community bulletin board as her son, Rowan, 2, explores nearby. A modest homeless encampment overlooks the waters of Lake Oroville beneath a bridge along Highway 70.

The freedom of a river in the drylands

Photos by Robert Gauthier

“Oh, the water
Oh, the water
Oh, the water
Let it run all over me
And it stoned me to my soul
Stoned me just like Jelly Roll
And it stoned me
And it stoned me to my soul
Stoned me just like goin’ home
And it stoned me”

– Van Morrison, “It Stoned Me”