Member Spotlight – November 2018

  • by Will Holbert
  • Nov 16, 2018
  • Newsletters

Enough concrete was poured during work on the Oroville Main Spillway to pave a 5.5-foot wide sidewalk from Oroville to Amarillo, Texas. Photo credit: Ryan McKinney, California Department of Water Resources

Oroville Dam Recovery Nearly Complete

The Department of Water Resources has completely reconstructed the main spillway at Oroville Dam as of Nov. 1 and states that it is prepared for the upcoming winter. The newly constructed spillway is now built to its original design capacity of 270,000 cubic feet per second.   

In a news release, DWR Director Karla Nemeth credited help from state, federal and local agency partners in achieving the goal and thanked surrounding communities for their patience, along with DWR staff who worked tirelessly on the Oroville spillways over the past two construction seasons. But while meeting the Nov. 1 milestone was significant, there is still more work to do before the project can be considered complete, she said. 

Concrete on the main spillway is expected to have cured by Dec. 1, in time for the rainy season and use of the main spillway if necessary. Dry finishing, joint sealing, completing sidewall backfill and site clean-up on the main spillway will also continue after that date.

“More than 700 construction workers, many of them from Butte County and other parts of Northern California, literally worked day and night to make incredible progress during the 2018 construction season,” said Tony Meyers, DWR project manager for the Oroville Spillways Emergency Recovery Project. “Staff from nearly every corner of DWR worked on the project in some capacity over the past year and a half and their planning, execution and hard work contributed to meeting this Nov. 1 milestone.”

The Lake Oroville saga began to unfold on Feb. 7, 2017, when DWR personnel discovered the reservoir’s gated primary spillway had sustained significant erosion damage while water was being released in the wake of heavy inflow from recent storms. Within a week, heavy inflow continued and the reservoir exceeded its 901-foot elevation capacity, with water flowing over the emergency spillway for the first time in the dam’s 48-year history. The bare hillside below the emergency spillway began to erode, prompting the evacuation of 188,000 residents in the Oroville area and downstream. 

The Oroville Spillways Emergency Recovery Project employed more than 700 construction workers. Photo credit: Kelly M. Grow, California Department of Water Resources

DWR faced heavy scrutiny and criticism over the evacuation and the conditions behind the spillway incident. This included the formation of an Oroville Spillways Independent Forensic Team, which released a report in January that faulted “long-term systematic failure” on the part of DWR, regulatory and general industry practices, but stated that the incident could not reasonably be blamed mainly on any one person, group or organization.

During the next 21 months, DWR and its construction contractors rebuilt and reinforced the spillway to higher standards at a cost of more than $1 billion, 75% of which will be shared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the remaining 25% by water districts that rely on Lake Oroville water.

At 770 feet, Oroville Dam is the tallest in the U.S. and can store more than 3.5 million acre-feet as a key part of the State Water Project. It also includes a hydroelectric plant and provides flood protection.

Leading up to the Nov. 1 milestone, a year and a half of work on the main spillway wrapped up with the final placement of 990 erosion-resistant concrete slabs, 330 new concrete walls, and energy dissipators at the base of the spillway. On the emergency spillway, there are now approximately 700,000 cubic yards of roller-compacted concrete (RCC) on the splashpad along with an RCC buttress at the base of the emergency spillway. Placement of a structural concrete cap connecting the RCC buttress to the emergency spillway structure is expected to be complete in early 2019.

More information and videos chronicling the construction process can be accessed through DWR’s website at

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