Is Oroville Dam ready? The water is rising fast, do you wonder where it all comes from?

Wet is the best way to describe this morning, the rain let up long enough to sit in the Crows nest to take stock of the slough. Winding around our island this is a small part of the 1500 miles (2414 km) of the Delta, just over 1% of the total weighing in at 17 miles. (27.3 km). Normally the trip around by water takes 2 hours, most of it is a no wake zone, 5 mph. A day like today is not conducive to boating, not so much because of the rain but the wind. Places, where the river widens, is an open plain for the wind to blow through causing the waves to reach 4 feet (about 1 meter) high. Debris blown into the river is carried in the water, lots of water weeds, and some escaped boats. The real danger is the larger items such as trees and pylons which are hard to see. Floating under the water at an angle the waterlogged pylons are stealth invaders when they meet a boat. Trees are a different story, normally the branches covered with leaves and junk from the water are above the surface. Living where it is mostly flat eliminates the worry of mudslides, erosion on the levees is a concern during high water times.

Trees are sometimes obvious.

The higher the water rises the more worrisome conditions become, with the amount of snow in the Sierra’s when the melt takes place we could face a lot of water. I read this morning some mountain ski resorts are projecting being able to remain open until July 7, 2019, that’s a bold prediction. A slow melt would be in the States best interest as it may provide a steady supply during the hottest and dryest part of the year. If it melts rapidly a great amount of it would have to go out to sea, all of the reservoirs are already nearly full and they surely will be totally full by the middle of April.

Tide flows impact the water level in the entire system if the melt occurs rapidly during a period of King Tides the level in the slough will be increased. The increased flow to the ocean will help control the pressure of the inflow. When the level rises boat wakes will take a priority, an alert will be issued calling for no wakes, most people on the river will follow the suggestions. Levels may come to within 4-5 feet (1.2-1.4 meters) of the top of the berms causing alarm if the rain continues. Flooding is a minimal threat if the past is able to predict the future which I’m sure is not accurate due to the way the climate is changing. In my opinion, the bigger threat is if the water tops the levee and begins to flow over it. Erosion would be rapid possibly causing the earth to be swept away, but the scary part is if the flow goes over the top in one spot it is sure not to be an isolated incident. Most of the well-maintained earthworks have level tops maintaining the same height the circumference of the island it protects.

Sandbagging would not be successful in such a scenario unless it was done for the entire 17 miles (27.3 km) which would be difficult at best. Inspections will most likely increase for the next few days at least and most likely until the end of the month. Our municipal district is responsible for maintaining the condition of the berms making repairs as needed. They are the closest we have to a city government which in effect places the condition of the river and levees as our governing focus. Ditches run along the road on the opposite side of the house as the river, the district is responsible for maintaining them as well. Shasta Dam is 225 miles (362 km) from our place on the river system, the water from it flows to Lake Oroville.

Shasta Dam.

Shasta is almost full and will be releasing water (I am assuming) to make room for snowmelt from the mountain that casts a shadow over it. Released water will increase the flow to Oroville, dictating for water to be released from that dam to make room for the increased volume. Yes, it is that Oroville Dam, the tallest in the nation the lake backing up behind it holds a lot of water it’s a huge lake. Two years ago the city below the dam was evacuated as many remember, I do because it directly impacts the river towns downstream. Oroville is 150 miles from here (241 km), we see a rise in water about 24 hours after it is released. First the flow works it’s way down the Feather River to meet up with the American River near Sacramento, 75 miles further South it joins the San Joaquin River. Depending upon how rapidly and the amount released the rise in the slough will show it.

A Two Billion dollar repair was made to the spillway of the dam, it has been declared (unofficially) as a mega-project. Rightfully so a big construction project completed in a surprisingly reasonable amount of time. (That is all the further I’m going with that). We are about to witness a test by fire for the new addition, of course, everyone is nervous as the memory is still fresh in our minds. If I was a betting man I would wager on it being a successful effort, I also bet there will be a lot of spectators when water is sent over it. News coverage will be extreme enabling me to watch it like I do sporting events, on my rear end in this chair.

The new 2 billion dollar spillway, it looks good as it awaits it’s test by fire. 

We forget that Oroville is not the only dam on our water system, to the South lies another big dam. Friant Dam the last of 10 on the San Joaquin River. Starting high in the Sierra’s far beyond Huntington Lake two reservoirs are fed by the snowmelt, Lake Edison and Lake Florence. A two-hour road trip from Huntington Lake the furthest lakes have been rarely full for the past 10 years, this year they will be. The San Joaquin is a South to North flowing river being diverted numerous times and at least one weir in place it is a controlled river flowing 300 miles to the California Delta.

Further South is Pine Flat Dam forming a huge lake by the same name from the flow of the Kings River which at one time flowed to the Delta but now disappears into the Central Valley farms.

Long prior to the construction of the dam, up until the early 1900s, it was possible for boats to travel from San Francisco to the small town of Corcoran 300 miles South. At one time an important link to the center of the San Joaquin Valley, it was used by the United States Army. The Presidio in San Francisco was the command post for the Army Base situated in Tejon California, on the I-5 over the Tehachapi’s (the grapevine). The fort has been preserved to the exact appearance it was at that time. Supplies were loaded on barges then floated down the river system to be unloaded upon arrival at Corcoran. From there wagons were loaded and began the 300-mile trek to the fort. ( 483 km) Some recall a now ancient movie (B grade western, no Ronald Reagan was not in it), the cavalry rode Camels throughout Southern California all the way to Phoenix Arizona, I don’t recall the name of the movie. Historically accurate as relating to the Camels this river system as well as Fort Teon ( Tee-Hon) it was a vital link in those early years of California. There have been a lot of changes since then including Tule Lake, the largest natural lake on the West Coast which has been drained to grow cotton. (no comment on that as well). The barges landed at the Tule Lake to unload and return North laden with agricultural products.

There is a tree at Fort Tejon with a carving “P. Lebec killed by a bear on this spot.” He may be related but most likely not.

P lebeck
Historically our name was de Bolebeck

Thanks for reading my blog, share it if you are so inclined. I did not intend to write about the water situation but as I mentioned above the river rules here and anything happening to it is of concern to us river people. Not surprising we all have a deep affection for it and are more than willing to fight for it as we have been since the first idea in the early 1900’s to divert the water to Los Angelos, I won’t get into that either. Thanks again.

Jacques Lebec Natural Self-Reliance

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