Even as rain began to fall in Northern California on Wednesday, state officials said the storms forecast over the next few days will not be enough to test the integrity of the Oroville Dam or its two damaged spillways.
Bill Croyle, acting director of the state Department of Water Resources, called the storms "fairly small" and said the public "won't see a blip in the reservoir" levels, now dropping about eight inches an hour.
Croyle said it was not the weather he was concerned about so much as the damage done to the dam's already compromised main spillway during days of sustained heavy releases of water.
Each morning before the break of dawn, Nirmal Singh makes his way to a small stage at the Shri Guru Ravidass Temple, adorned with roses and silk. There, the priest sits and reads prayers from a centuries-old Indian text to open the day.
It's usually a quiet affair, with words spoken in Punjabi to an empty hall the size of a large backyard — a solemn start at the small Sikh temple that sees few people outside of weekend services.
But this week, Singh had company. Bodies shuffled under blankets in front of him. On Tuesday a Mexican couple and their kids woke up to his right, revealing the head scarves they wore in respect of Sikh traditions. In a nearby room, an African American man was also was getting up to the sounds of prayer.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) said Wednesday that officials will investigate what went wrong at the Oroville Dam once the emergency situation is over.
In a Facebook post, LaMalfa wrote that Oroville Dam "looks stable for now."
LaMalfa said officials are focused on providing support to residents who were evacuated Sunday night. Residents were allowed to return home Tuesday afternoon after officials said the risk of flooding had diminished.
Before evacuees returned home Tuesday afternoon, a woman cared for kangaroos, zebras and other animals left behind by residents.
California Highway Patrol officers were checking on abandoned properties in the affected areas on Tuesday morning, when they came across the exotic animals at Tamara Archer Houston’s family farm in Sutter County, said Officer Chad Hertzell, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol in North Sacramento.
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.
Capt. Dan Olson, a spokesman from the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said crews have been working around the clock to reinforce two damaged spillways at Oroville Dam before storms expected to begin as soon as Wednesday night. Officials are using drones to monitor the repairs and damage.
Meanwhile, the California Department of Water Resources is increasing water releases to meet its goal of dropping levels at Lake Oroville below 840 feet, he said.
The department has been releasing 4 inches of water an hour, which is about 8 feet a day, he said.
The storm that officials at Lake Oroville have been bracing for is on the way.
Although the storms are expected to be far weaker than the ones that inundated Northern California last week, any additional rainfall could exacerbate the problems in the region, where more than 100,000 people were evacuated Sunday amid concern that a damaged spillway at Oroville Dam could fail.
The storm system is expected to arrive late Wednesday or early Thursday morning and could bring 2 to 4 inches of rainfall over Lake Oroville, said Tom Dang, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. Another storm Friday could drop an additional 1 to 3 inches on the region and is expected to have a much greater impact on Southern California.