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The Buckhorn

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Winters Express
13 Russell Street
Winters, CA 95694
(530) 795-4551
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Living under a dam during a wet winter can be interesting

When Lake Oroville’s primary spillway crumbled about half way down and created a sink hole 300 feet wide, the Department of Water and Power (DWP), who oversee the dam, turned off the flow to check out the damage. As the lake continued to rise, the DWP was hoping that their emergency spillway, which had never been used since the dam was built in 1968, would solve their problem. The emergency spillway has a concrete lip and dirt below it, allowing water to flow over the side of the dam and down a hillside.
The number we like to quote for Lake Berryessa is 440 feet above sea level. That is the level of the Glory Hole, our spillway for the Monticello Dam. The number for Lake Oroville is 900 feet above sea level. With the primary spillway at Lake Oroville closed and the water rising, the water started spilling over the concrete and onto the dirt below. It wasn’t long before someone noticed that the dirt was eroding and backing up to the lip of the dam. That is when they told people living below the dam on along the Feather River to get out, now. Then they repeated the command, over and over again until people realized they weren’t kidding.
There are/were almost 200,000 people affected by this evacuation order. You may have relatives and friends living with you now. The evacuation order was lifted around 2 o’clock on Tuesday. The present danger has passed, but if the water rises again, over the 900 foot level, you would not be safe from potential flooding. They are talking about a 30’ wall of water roaring down the valley.
They opened the gates on the spillway to lower the lake, hoping that the main spillway would hold, as they released 100,000 cubic feet of water per second. That is about 750,000 gallons of water a second, flowing into the Feather River. Releasing 100,000 second feet was enough water to start lowering the level of the lake, as of Tuesday Lake Oroville was at an elevation of 887. The DWR would like to lower the lake by 50 feet to 850, but they may not have the time before the next storm shows up.
On Tuesday morning, Lake Berryessa was at 439.34 feet above sea level, and either holding or going down, as I write this column. People wonder if Winters is in any danger? I like to tell the story of Jack Lindeman, an engineer for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation during the construction of the Monticello Dam. After he retired he moved his family to Winters where he built an adobe home on Niemann Street and lived there until he passed away. He felt safe here and so do I.
Some dam facts from the Winters Express. Construction of the Monticello Dam began in August 1953 when the rerouting of highways began. The first bucket of concrete in the dam was poured August 9, 1955, and the dam was completed in 1957. The concrete arch dam rises 304 feet above the stream bed and is 1000 feet in length. It contains 325,000 cubic yards of concrete.
The dam has a storage capacity of 1,600,000 acre feet of water and Lake Berryessa covers 19,250 acres. The reservoir is 22.4 miles long and about 4 miles across at its widest part. The lake has 160 miles of shoreline.
The building now housing the Winters Express was built for the use as construction headquarters by State Senator Sam Geddes, who leased the building to the Bureau of Reclamation. The building was later sold to Yolo County and eventually to the City of Winters.
The dam was built with a unique feature, the Glory Hole. The Glory Hole is 75 feet wide and can consume 48,000 cubic feet of water per second. That is a lot of water. The question comes up about what happens if the Glory Hole can’t handle all the water? The dam is not designed for the water to go over the top, so the engineers planned for the water to flow around the dam, over the road and back into Putah Creek.
If you have ever hiked around the dam you will know that it isn’t like the Oroville Dam, which is built out of dirt and rocky landfill. The land where they placed the dam is solid rock and the bureau used a lot of concrete. If you want to be afraid of something, you’ll have to pick something other than the dam breaking. If you forgot that it was Valentine’s Day, be very afraid.
Have a good week.