OROVILLE (CBS13) — Months after the Oroville Dam spillway crisis, hundreds of farmers near the Feather River are still dealing with troubles.
“If a boat goes by, it erodes the banks now,” said Brad Foster.
He farms more than 600 acres north of Marysville.
Foster says the drastic changes in the amount of water released from the Oroville Dam spillway in the last three months has done permanent damage to the river bank.
“This used to go out 20 feet. It’s all sloughed off and washed away,” said Foster, pointing to where water now fills the river bank. “It’s our buffer zone. it’s literally been pulled into the river. there’s no protection on it anymore.”
His walnut and pecan orchard was under 12 feet of water in February when the Department of Water Resources first began draining the lake. DWR made it a goal to drop the lake level by more than 50 feet to make room for the impending snow melt runoff.
Since the initial drainage, the water flow levels have varied between 40,000 cfs and 8,000 cfs.
“It depends on how long they leave it on,” said Foster, “If they leave it on for two weeks we’re in trouble.”
In late April, when the releases from the Oroville Dam spillway hit 36,000 cubic feet per second, the water backed up into the farm. Foster built a small drainage ditch to protect a 10 acre portion of walnut trees.
“Put them under water, takes all the oxygen away from the roots and they can’t breathe either,” said Foster.
Crops and the river bank have taken a beating.
On Thursday, the Legislative Analyst’s Office made a presentation about the spillway failure and Department of Water Resources officials were grilled by lawmakers.
“We’re flood fighting at the same time were trying to keep a dam operational,” explained DWR acting Director Bill Croyle.
Croyle says his agency has been working to investigate what caused the failure and engineer a way to fix it. Croyle stressed their No. 1 priority was public safety.
“The status quo is simply unacceptable for the 200,000 people living in the shadow of this dam,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher, who represents Oroville.
Gallagher says inspection reports and forensic investigations reveal a “culture that does need to change.”
Foster is one of those people living in the dam’s shadow.
“They haven’t come out and said how can we help,” said Foster.
There is pent up frustration for farmers left feeling helpless.
“They know they did the damage but they haven’t said a thing about how they’re going to fix it,” said Foster, “they’re leaving that to us.”
Croyle says they hope to close the spillway way gates for several months by the end of May. Water will continue to flow through the power plant at the base of the dam.
By stopping the flow from the spillway, Croyle says engineers and construction crews will be able to begin work on a spillway fix. A process that is expected to last until November and beyond.