Dangerously high water levels of Lake Oroville in California, created when Oroville Dam was built in 1967, and the looming failure of the dam’s spillway to ease those levels, has put everything and everyone below the dam in peril — including several campgrounds, one of which is already under water and evacuated.
Lake Oroville provides water, energy and recreation opportunities to the San Francisco Bay area, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California. The Oroville Dam, which at 900 feet is said to be the tallest earth-filled dam in the country, rises some 770 feet above the Feather River. The river has already overflowed its banks, in part due to 100-cubic-feet of water per second coming from the lake’s eroding spillway. Officials are frantically trying to repair the spillway, among other efforts to remedy the situation, but evacuation orders have been put into effect.
The Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, which has been closed due to the ongoing flood management emergency at Oroville Dam, includes three campgrounds: Bidwell Canyon Campground, Lime Saddle Campground, and Loafer Creek Campground, all of which have been evacuated. In addition, there are at least two private campgrounds in Oroville. Riffles RV Park & Campground is located along the Feather River and nine miles from Lake Oroville, while Dingerville Creek Campground is about 11 1/2 miles from the lake.
Shelly Gray, whose family owns Riffles RV Park & Campground, told RVBUSINESS.com that the Feather River overflowed its banks sometime overnight on Feb. 12 so their complex has been underwater for several days. Her family helped seasonal campers evacuate their RVs to higher ground, and she’s personally welcomed 13 people in her private home, which is outside of the evacuation area.
“We’ve been through this before — we had a flood in ’97 and another one sometime in the mid ’80’s — so you just do what you have to do and try and lead a normal life. We’re stocking up on provisions and just waiting for when it’s safe to go back,” Gray said.
Besides the campground, the family’s property also includes several other businesses, among them a paintball arena as well as a rental venue popular for weddings and other special events. Gray said several brides who used the venue for their wedding have been in contact via text messages and through Facebook, pledging their support to help return the property back to normal.
“They’re asking us how we’re doing and saying to let them know when we’re ready for them to come help. ‘We’ll put on our boots and old clothes to help clean up and re-plant — whatever you need we’re here to help,’” Gray said. “That’s what’s so neat about all this. Here we are, underwater, and people are willing to help.”
Gray said they don’t know yet when things might return to normal — a lot of it depends on the weather and whether other dams further north might also be affected — but said they have heavy equipment lined up to remove the muck and sludge that will remain once the floodwaters recede.
“You know, it’s just Mother Nature, really. She can be wild and crazy,” Gray said. “The important thing is that everyone is safe. Beyond that’s it’s all just ‘stuff,’ really. We’ll just keep praying.”
In their most recent update, issued Thursday (Feb. 16), by a variety of cooperating state and local agencies, including the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), California State Parks, and the Butte County Sheriff’s Department, officials said they continue to reinforce the emergency spillway.
“The lake level sits at 32 feet below the emergency spillway height. Despite weather conditions, crews continue to work around the clock and are making progress with emergency repairs,” the update stated. “Barges and cranes have been mobilized to remove debris and sediment from the diversion pool. These efforts are designed to restore the normal flow of water into the diversion pool and through the Hyatt power plant.
“Water at the rate of 100,000 cubic feet per second continues to flow through the flood control spillway in an effort to accommodate anticipated inflow from upcoming storms. These storms are forecasted to bring colder temperatures and inflows are anticipated to increase to 45,000 cubic feet per second. However, lake levels will continue to decrease. DWR continues to aggressively monitor the status of the dam, spillways, related structures, and progress of repair activities.”