Authorities told residents Monday it could take up to two weeks before the issue is resolved and residents can return home.
When reservoirs get too full, their operators release extra water down long channels, or spillways, created to carry it downstream in a safe, controlled way. Engineers said that despite a huge gash that opened in the concrete channel a week ago, it was their best option for lowering the dangerously high lake level.
On Sunday however, the earthen emergency spillway began to show signs of heavy erosion.
With blankets, pillows and a little food, Santiago said: "We're going to sleep in the auto".
According to court documents, three environmental groups filed a complaint with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2005 and said the dam's emergency spillway wasn't properly built. They wanted officials to require the operators of Oroville Dam to commit to building a reinforced spillway before renewing their operating license. Officials say that residents who live in the evacuation area should stay away. However, evacuation orders remain in effect for many communities downstream from the lake.
"I've been doing these flood battles since 1978", said state Sen.
Almost 12 years ago, environmentalists warned both state and federal officials that California's Oroville Dam wasn't safe.
Sacramento NBC affiliate KCRA reports the spillway could fail, potentially sending a 30-foot wall of water into the Feather River Basin.
"Obviously any rain this week is not helpful at all", said Tom Dang, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento.
On Monday, geysers of water shot from the placid lake and down the concrete spillway, like a water slide the width of a freeway.
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"I'm sure that California and Washington will work in a constructive way", Brown said. "I think that will be sufficient".
"We didn't have a plan, all we knew is to head north toward Chico", Davila said. "It's not a wait-and-see game".
Lake Oroville is the starting point for California's State Water Project, which provides drinking water to 23 million of the state's 39 million people and irrigates 750,000 acres of farms.
During much of the five-year drought, the lake level was far below normal, forcing officials to slash water deliveries. "The release is necessary for space to allow future storms and to prevent uncontrolled release and flooding".
A series of powerful storms Tuesday sent runoff rushing into the reservoir, just as the hole appeared in the main spillway. The main spillway was designed for a peak flow water rate of 150,000 cubic feet per second, but a massive break in the lower portion of the concrete chute has complicated matters. "This was a new, never-happened-before event".
Croyle and the local sheriff sought to reassure the public that downstream communities were safe until water began spilling over the lake's edge Sunday and a chocolate-colored torrent began chewing through the slope below it.
The Colorado River supplies 19 million urban dwellers in Southern California through a 242-mile aqueduct from Lake Havasu, Arizona, to the state's coastal regions that was completed by Metropolitan Water District of Southern California in 1941.
"They did look at that issue and they determined that [the existing emergency spillway] did meet the appropriate FERC guidelines", Kightlinger said.
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He said he welcomed calls for more scrutiny.