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Mandatory evacuation orders lifted as officials monitor water levels at Oroville Dam

By Stephanie Koons, AccuWeather staff writer
February 16, 2017, 6:06:26 AM EST

    Mandatory evacuation orders have been lifted for the nearly 200,000 residents that live in Oroville, California, and surrounding areas, with officials continuing to work to fix the damaged emergency spillway at the Oroville Dam.

    The evacuation order was changed Tuesday to a "warning" evacuation, meaning people can return home but are asked to be prepared to evacuate again should the status change back to "immediate," officials said.

    "This reduction to an evacuation warning properly balances the need for people to return to their daily life while at the same time remain aware of the situation and be prepared to deal with a future increased threat," Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea said in a statement.

    Evacuations were first ordered after officials warned of "imminent failure" within 60 minutes at Oroville Dam's emergency spillway at 4:45 p.m. PST Sunday.

    While the dam has not given way, the emergency spillway, which prevents the water from overflowing, was discovered to have a hole in it and was eroding, officials say.

    If the structure fails, it will result in an uncontrolled release of flood waters from Lake Oroville.

    oroville spillway

    Erosion caused when overflow water cascaded down the emergency spillway is seen, bottom, as water continues to flow down the main spillway, top, of the Oroville Dam, Monday, Feb. 13, 2017, in Oroville, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

    Water first began flowing over the emergency spillway on Saturday, Feb. 11, when the lake level exceeded 901 feet elevation above sea level. Serious erosion developed on the dam's primary spillway on Tuesday, Feb. 7.

    Evacuation orders were lifted on Tuesday afternoon due to lower lake levels, further inspections and ongoing work to shore up the Oroville Dam emergency spillway, the Butte County Sheriff said on Facebook.

    Oroville Mayor Linda Dahlmeier said on Monday that the lake's elevation had dropped 5.5 feet below the top of the emergency spillway. Armoring rock and concrete was being placed around the erosion areas downstream of the emergency spillway, she added.

    Officials are trying to lower the lake level at least 50 feet by Sunday.

    Additional rounds of stormy weather will take aim at Northern California through the weekend and into next week which could complicate the repair efforts. However, officials said Wednesday that they believe the dam will hold up.

    An emergency evacuation of Yuba City and Marysville was ordered late Sunday afternoon. Gridley and Live Oak were included in the evacuation alert on Sunday evening. Several evacuation centers were set up around the area.

    Late Sunday night, officials said the threat has diminished somewhat as the erosion was stopped.

    California Gov. Jerry Brown issued a state of emergency order late Sunday evening in response to the dam's overflow crisis.

    “I’ve been in close contact with emergency personnel managing the situation in Oroville throughout the weekend, and it’s clear the circumstances are complex and rapidly changing,” he said in a statement.


    (Photo/City of Oroville)

    "The state is directing all necessary personnel and resources to deal with this very serious situation."

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    In response to this situation, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) increased water releases to 100,000 cubic feet per second.

    The California Highway Patrol said it was assisting motorists who were in need of gas.

    AccuWeather Staff Writer Kevin Byrne contibuted to this article.

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