LOCAL CALIFORNIA

The rain has started to return in Northern California and will continue over the next few days, but officials aren't as concerned about the upcoming weather so much as the damage already done to the Oroville Dam's already compromised main spillway.

The risk of flooding has dropped substantially, but Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea warned residents Wednesday that they remain in "an emergency situation."

Dam operators now hope to lower Lake Oroville by 60 feet in preparation for rain and snowmelt

Even after Lake Oroville's water level is reduced by a targeted 50 feet, water managers intend to further drain the reservoir so that it can absorb major rain storms and spring snowmelt, according to state planning documents.

The most recent 10-day forecast calls for water levels to be dropped 60 feet below the lake's maximum of 901 feet, which would give it the ability to hold nearly 1 million acre-feet of water before overtopping a damaged emergency spillway that is still undergoing temporary repairs.

A joint plan created by the Department of Water Resources, Cal Fire and the Butte County Sheriff's Office calls for the reduction of water releases down the reservoir's main spillway later in the week. Water has been coursing down the damaged spillway at a rate of 100,000 cubic feet per second but will taper off to a third of that by late Friday, according to the plan.

A new series of storms forecast to arrive late Wednesday is expected to last through the weekend. Likewise, a cooling trend will drop more snowfall in the Sierra.

Officials hope to reduce the lake level to below 840 feet by next Wednesday. That level falls below what engineering documents show is normally required for flood control in wet weather. The biggest surge in water reaching the lake from the Feather Basin is forecast to arrive Tuesday, according to the planning documents.

With the mandatory evacuation order for the Feather River lifted, life in Oroville is returning to normal. As a result, the Gold Country Casino and Hotel — which has served as housing for emergency work crews — is now asking contract workers to leave by Friday so the hotel can honor prior reservations.

The workers can return Monday. The state also is operating a less luxurious emergency base camp nearby with meals provided by inmates on state firefighting crews.

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