The Oroville Spillway Disaster: Why You Should NEVER Wait for the Official Evacuation Order

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By Daisy Luther

After five years of drought, a new disaster faces Northern California: the imminent collapse of the Oroville Spillway.

Nearly 200,000 people were evacuated last night from areas below the Oroville Dam due to the fear that the main spillway is pending imminent collapse and the emergency spillway is literally, just a cleared hill which showed massive erosion when they tested it with a small amount of water.

(Update: To all of the kind people who asked, my family and I are nowhere near this disaster. We are several hours away and quite far uphill from it. Thank you for your concern.)

The state has basically gotten all the rain it missed over the past years at once, as three storms called “atmospheric rivers” have unleashed torrential rains that have lasted for days. Another huge rain storm is expected later this week and crews are working frantically around the clock to fix the spillway before more rain falls. This photo shows the damage to the spillway.

But the real lesson here isn’t the faulty infrastructure or the mismanagement of funds.

It is the deception of the public and the way that officials will go to great lengths to cover their butts – even if that means giving a warning to the public that could be too late. This isn’t the first time that the government has completely failed in an emergency response to an imminent disaster, and it won’t be the last.

Officials waited until they believed that the disaster was only 60 minutes away to evacuate nearly 200,000 people.

The week leading up to the crisis

All week, people have raised concerns about the spillways. But the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) told residents there was nothing to worry about.

Here are the updates from their Facebook page from Feb. 7, when the spillway damage was first discovered, until last night, when failure appeared to be imminent and almost 200,000 people were given minutes to evacuate. Emphasis mine. Note that until the very last post, they were assuring everyone that things were fine.

  • Feb. 7: DWR halts flow down the Oroville Dam spillway. Engineers investigating erosion.
  • Feb. 8: DWR engineers and geologists continue to assess the concrete erosion on the Oroville Dam spillway. There is no imminent threat to the dam or public.
  • Feb. 8: DWR increases Oroville spillway flows. There is no imminent or expected threat to public safety or the integrity of Oroville Dam.
  • Feb. 9: Despite rumors, the Oroville Dam spillway has not collapsed. Additional damage to the spillway has occurred due to the increased flows but is still being used.
  • Feb. 9: DWR Acting Director assured the public this evening that Oroville Dam is sound and the Department is managing all risks, which likely includes using the emergency spillway.
  • Feb. 10: Lake Oroville releases increase. Inflow to reservoir declining. There is no imminent threat to public safety or the dam.
  • Feb. 10: As of now DWR is not expecting to use emergency spillway, but clearing debris as a contingency.
  • Feb. 10: DWR is monitoring conditions around the clock and hopeful that emergency spillway will not be needed. As a precaution, CAL FIRE crews are clearing debris from the emergency spillway. Still no threat to the dam or the public.
  • Feb. 11: Water Expected to flow into Lake Oroville emergency spillway soon. Oroville Dam itself remains safe, and there is no imminent threat to the public.
  • Feb. 11: Flow over auxiliary spillway between 6,000 and 12,000 CFS. No danger to the dam or people. (Note the change in wording from “emergency spillway” to “auxiliary spillway?”)
  • Feb. 11: “The flows we’re seeing are extremely low compared to the design of the structure,” said DWR Acting Director William Croyle. “Based on our current situation, there is no threat.
  • Feb. 12: Water continues to be released from both the gated spillway and the auxiliary spillway. At 6:00 am, inflow to the lake decreased to 52,700 CFS. Flows from the gated spillway remain unchanged at 55,000 CFS. Flows over the auxiliary spillway peaked at 1:00 a.m. this morning at 12,600 CFS and are decreasing. Lake elevation levels are trending down.
  • Feb. 12: California Department of Fish and Wildlife successfully evacuated almost all salmon from the Feather River Fish Hatchery. Nice work! (Humans are still being told that everything is fine, but hey, they got the fish out.  Apparently. the fish were out a couple of days earlier.)

Five hours after joyfully announcing the successful evacuation of the fish…

  • Feb. 12: EMERGENCY EVACUATION ORDER ISSUED: Officials are anticipating a failure of the Auxiliary Spillway at Oroville Dam within the next 60 minutes. Residents of Oroville should evacuate in a northward direction, toward Chico. Other cities should follow the orders of their local law enforcement.
  • Feb. 12: DWR plans to use helicopters to drop rocks to fill in the gouge in the Oroville Auxilliary Spillway to stabilize.

The Butte County Sheriff’s Dept. issued this statement:

This is an evacuation order.

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

A hazardous situation is developing with the Oroville Dam auxiliary spillway. Operation of the auxiliary spillway has lead to severe erosion that could lead to a failure of the structure. Failure of the auxiliary spillway structure will result in an uncontrolled release of flood waters from Lake Oroville.

In response to this developing situation, DWR is increasing water releases to 100,000 cubic feet per second.

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

This in NOT A Drill. This in NOT A Drill. This in NOT A Drill.

Needless to say, chaos erupted as unprepared people rushed from their homes, only to sit in long lines at the fuel stations and get stuck in traffic for hours as the routes out of the danger zone became clogged within minutes.

Should the spillway fail, it would result in an uncontrolled release of floodwaters.

Unprecedented flooding could occur in Oroville, Palermo, Gridley, Thermalito, South Oroville, Oroville Dam, Oroville East, and Wyandotte.

“With Lake Oroville filled to the brim, such a collapse could have caused a “30-foot wall of water coming out of the lake,” Cal-Fire incident commander Kevin Lawson said at a Sunday night press conference.” (source)

One estimate suggested that the initial flash flood could reach up to 100 feet in depth, wiping out everything in its path. This tweet shows how quickly the predicted floodwaters would move.

What lessons can preppers learn from this?

From the moment this erosion was spotted, people downstream should have been packing and moving their farm animals, pets, and larger items to higher ground if possible. They should have been preparing for an immediate evacuation, with their vehicles loaded.

You absolutely cannot trust the organization who would be at fault for a disaster of this magnitude to be upfront in warning of their negligence. They’ll be too busy scrambling for a makeshift fix and rescuing the fish to tell you that you are in peril. All you have to do is think about the Flint water crisis or Hurricane Katrina to recall that officials will cover their own butts first and warn people of danger second.

Officials in charge of the Oroville Spillway waited until they believed that the disaster was only 60 minutes away to evacuate nearly 200,000 people.

The bottom line is something that every prepper knows is a fact:

In a disaster, you are completely on your own.

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Some helpful links for those affected by this potential disaster:

Emergency Evacuation Checklist for Getting Out Fast

Replacing Documents After a Disaster

Live Updates for the Oroville Spillway

Guide to Emergency Evacuations (Kindle version)

A note for all of the people without compassion, like the ones commenting on Facebook about how Californians deserve this and how funny it is:

One day you may suffer a disaster. And I hope that people are kinder to you than you are to the human beings who are suffering right now.

As well, those who like to paint the entire state with a broad brush should know that Butte County is not a liberal hotbed, as you can see from the official election results here.

And even if they didn’t vote the way you think they should have, wishing ill on other people is a reprehensible way to live. It reflects on you, not the people you are saying cruel things about.

If you are one of the people who think that anyone deserves to lose their homes and everything they own, you should be ashamed of yourselves.

Your smug judgmental attitude and hatred are part of what is wrong with our country today. If you think that you’re being a Christian by wishing ill on Californians, I’m pretty sure this is the opposite of the behavior Jesus recommended.

For those who think this is “Karma” maybe you should remember that Karma works both ways, and one day, you could find yourself the recipient of it.

Maybe you didn’t mean to be cruel. Maybe this post will help you to realize that it isn’t the way you want to behave. I hope so because I think most of us are inherently good people. Sometimes we just don’t think before we speak or type. We can always try to be kinder and more compassionate people going forward.

But if you are steadfast in this mindset, I know what you’re going to say. And go ahead. Feel free to “unlike” my social media, remove me from your bookmarks, and never come to my website again. My comments section and social media accounts will be much better places without you.


Picture of Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is a coffee-swigging, globe-trotting blogger. She is the founder and publisher of three websites.  1) The Organic Prepper, which is about current events, preparedness, self-reliance, and the pursuit of liberty on her website, 2)  The Frugalite, a website with thrifty tips and solutions to help people get a handle on their personal finances without feeling deprived, and 3), an aggregate site where you can find links to all the most important news for those who wish to be prepared. She is widely republished across alternative media and  Daisy is the best-selling author of 5 traditionally published books and runs a small digital publishing company with PDF guides, printables, and courses. You can find her on FacebookPinterest, Gab, MeWe, Parler, Instagram, and Twitter.

Leave a Reply

  • I am thankful you and your family are safe. Living in an area where I have seen the results from flood damage, I know how terrible it can be.

    In 2015, a flash flood washed away many homes in our area. In addition, roads, water pipes, electrical poles, and many other homes were damaged or destroyed.

    Many others while not directly affected, lost power and water until repairs could be made.

    Praying for the people facing the threat of the spillway disaster. May they make wise decisions and be safe.

  • The 1986 book by Marc Reisner, _Cadillac Desert_ a history of water development in the western US is as relevant today as ever. Competition for bureaucratic turf between the Bureau of Reclamation (with a focus on irrigation) and the Army Corps of Engineers (with a focus on flood control) resulted in such tremendous organizational momentum that they continued to build dams after they had run out of good dam sites. This culminated in the June 1976 catastrophic collapse of the Teton Dam in Idaho as it filled with water for the first time. Eleven people died and all of the land the new dam was intended to irrigate was permanently destroyed. If you only read one chapter in this book, make it “Those Who Refuse to Learn”, a blistering account of how Teton happened.

    BTW, I lived near Oroville in the 60’s and got to watch the dam being built and still have photos that I took then. I never expected this to happen!!!

  • So many people affected by this impending disaster. Those wishing the worst for Californians need to remember that many frail elderly, nursing home patients, and homeless live in the path of this dam. What got me is the county sheriff had some people hysterical when they had no reason to be. They lied to people who had no danger to them, so they could “clear out” large areas. This caused panic! I talked to a bank clerk about it; I said “all this does is make residents not believe the truth when they are told the truth”. Her response was classic: “well, I am sure they did it with the best of intentions”. Huh?? It’s okay to lie to people about a pending disaster? Good grief!
    The important lesson about all of this, is KNOW YOUR AREA! Find out what is pertinent to you and be prepared for it.

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