The Oroville Dam's spillway sinkhole, already as wide as a football field, is expected to get even bigger while California state engineers try to figure out what to do about all the water backing up behind the dam.
State workers found the eroded crater on Tuesday and stopped high releases of water into the spillway, reported the Los Angeles Times. Water releases through Oroville's power plant were increased on Wednesday, as engineers tested to see how much water the damaged area could handle as reservoir levels continued to rise.
"We do not believe there's an imminent danger to the dam, or the flood control ... gates that we operate, or the public," said Bill Croyle, acting director of the California Department of Water Resources, according to the Sacramento Bee.
The Oroville Dam, which took six years to build from 1962 to 1968, is the tallest dam in the United States – 40 feet higher than the Hoover Dam. The dam, which created Oroville Lake, is California's second-largest reservoir.
Heavy rain this winter helped eliminate the drought in parts of northern California, noted The Weather Channel, but the record precipitation brought new problems for the area's infrastructure.
The Times said state officials were weighing options of continuing to send water down the spillway, which will worsen the damage, or let the reservoir fill, which could send flows into a separate emergency spillway that is not paved or gated.
"At this point, they have to be prepared to use the broken spillway," Ron Stork, a policy staffer for the environmental group Friends of the River, told the Times. "If they don't, the reservoir is going to rise and there is no place to put a big inflow. I don't think this is an impending disaster, but this is a fairly serious set of dilemmas that (Department of Water Resources) is going to have to solve."
Croyle said he believed the erosion will get worse before the state can fix the problem.
"Pushing water down that chute is going to continue to erode that chute," Croyle said, per the Bee. "We wouldn't be surprised if by the end of this wet season, much of the lower portion of the spillway has eroded away."
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