Nice Drought We're Having!
February 13, 2017

Governor Brown can't say it. His minions at the state Department of Water Resources can't say it. Grass Valley got seven inches of rain in five days last week. Still, they won't say it. This is the wettest winter in six years. Southern California has gotten rain, too. There's so much water, a spillway is about to fail, 200-thousand people have been told to leave, but it can't be said. It's like Arthur Fonzarelli when he made a mistake. He was wrrrr. He was wrrrrrrrrrr. He was wrong. Say it, people. Four words. You know what I'm talking about. Say it with me. THE DROUGHT IS OVER.

Seriously, as recently as last week, the DWR voted to extend emergency water regulations until next spring. It will be evaluated at that time is to whether there is a drought or not. A climatologist told us that a drought isn't over until the governor says it is. And you thought a drought was a meteorological event, not a political one.

Because we are so dried out and parched from six straight days of rain, a rare sunny Sunday seemed like a good day to go out and take some pictures of the Feather and Yuba Rivers. It wouldn't be until I got home from this little sojourn, pizza in hand to sit down and watch the Grammy Awards, that something wasn't going well about 30 miles upstream. We knew about the hole in the spillway, just not about the fact that the emergency spillway at Oroville Dam, which has never been used in the 48-year history of the dam, was likely to fail “within the hour”. So much for caring about who wins Song of the Year.

Ten minutes before the Grammys were due to start, I turned on the local news. Things weren't good. They were getting ready to evacuate lower Oroville, but no other orders had been issued. Still, if a spillway fails with the ability to cover ten football fields in a foot of water in a second, and you live just two miles from the edge of the Feather River, you begin to think that this might affect more than just lower Oroville. About that time, there was a knock on my door. My apartment manager says she got a call from the Office of Emergency Services. We were being told to leave.

It's not that I didn't believe her, but I had the TV on, I was paying attention, and hadn't heard anything. About that time, my phone rang. It was an evacuation order from OES. It said, “this is not a drill,” and said it two or three times. I thought about it for a few more seconds. I also wanted to see the spillway break live on TV, but it was getting dark. Leaving seemed like a pretty smart thing to do.

It felt like it was taking me forever to go, but it was only about 15 minutes. I grabbed a pillow and a blanket, threw about a week's worth of clothes in a duffel bag, grabbed some important papers, my laptop, and some cash, and left. I had some work to do in Grass Valley, anyway. Maybe I could get a hotel room there. If not, I would just sleep at the radio station. I slept at the radio station.

Driving up the hill wasn't bad. It was kind of like leaving a baseball game or a concert. A little stop and go, but mostly a steady stream of traffic. If you waited another hour or more to leave, like a lot of people did. It was totally different. Cars were moving about a mile in three hours, according to some reports. But they left.

The evacuation orders have not been lifted yet, but a few of us, with the imminent danger subsided a little, decided to come back anyway. There's no one stopping you, but it's eerie. Businesses are closed, streets are virtually deserted. Meanwhile, repair work is being done upstream. They are talking like it could be a week before evacuation orders are lifted. I decided that since I work at a higher elevation, my current plan will be to come each night, but I'll have a bag packed, and take it with me when I go to work.

Two hundred thousand of us are in this bind, and while the big worry right now has nothing to do with the word they are using to call this weather, it would still be nice to acknowledge that maybe this is a little different than what's been happening over the last six or so years. Work continues at the spillway, trying to jam large rocks in place to keep the thing from failing again. The work needs to be done now because it's supposed to rain later this week.

Did I say rain? Yeah, another series of three straight storms, including next weekend. Yes, more rain. More water. The dictionary defines drought as “a prolonged period of abnormally low rainfall; a shortage of water resulting from this.” The climate guy says only the governor can make that call. Okay, governor. This isn't political. Say it. Say it now. Four little words. Hurry before the damn (I mean dam) spillway breaks. THE DROUGHT IS OVER!

Above photo: The spillway at Oroville Dam. You can kinda tell something is wrong. The photos below were taken by me yersterday (Sunday), not having any idea I was going to be told to leave the area because an emergency spillway was about to fail.

From the Tenth Street Bridge between Marysville and Yuba City looking north.
The levees are doing their job, but the water is this high only about once a decade.

Smith, party of two? Smith. Party of two.
Your table is ready!

Looking south. Ninety nine percent of the time, this is Riverfront Park.
There's a plane flying overhead checking out the water levels as well.

The Marysville Invitational Soccer Tournament has been postponed due to
inclement weather. No makeup dates have been announced.

The Yuba River at the Parks Bar Bridge, about halfway between Marysville
and Grass Valley. Most of the time, this is more of a stream than a raging river.

A family out for a stroll on a nice sunny Sunday afternoon.
They probably had to evacuate when they got home, just like some of us did.

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