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Photos: Dramatic Images of Catastrophic Damage at Oroville Spillway

Cracks appear

spillway hole

(Image credit: Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water Resources via Getty Images)

On Feb. 7, a small hole appeared in the Oroville spillway, which is meant to provide overflow relief for the Oroville Dam in Northern California.

First hole

oroville spillway with damage

(Image credit: Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water Resources via Getty Images)

The hole, shown here on Feb. 7 triggered an evacuation of nearly 200,000 people. Ultimately, however, with more rains coming, water-department officials decided they needed to use the damaged spillway to continue lowering the water levels in Lake Oroville, so that water didn't overtop the dam and cause truly catastrophic devastation.

Rushing waters

oroville dam with water flowing

(Image credit: Kelly M. Grow/ California Department of Water Resources via Getty Images)

On Feb. 9, the Lake Oroville spillway flows late Thursday afternoon as 35,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water was released over the damaged spillway February 9, 2017 in Oroville, California.

No choices

oroville spillway at reduced flow

(Image credit: Florence Low/ California Department of Water Resources/Getty Images)

Water flows down the Oroville Dam main spillway at 55,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) February 11, 2017 in Oroville, California.

Huge erosion

oroville spillway

(Image credit: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

The scale of the damage and erosion at the Oroville Spillway can already be seen on Feb. 13.

Scale of erosion

oroville damage

(Image credit: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

On Feb. 13, water flowed down the Oroville Spillway. The huge area covered by the water's outlet gives a hint of the scale of erosion below.

Pounding waterfall


(Image credit: Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)

On Feb. 14, sprays from the pounding waterfall cascading over the Oroville Spillway created a rainbow. The pounding whitewater was causing extensive damage to the spillway and mountainside beneath it.

Extensive damage

oroville damage

(Image credit: Dale Kolke /CA Dept. of Water Resources/Reuters/Newscom)

An aerial view of the damaged Oroville Dam spillway site with a huge debris field in the diversion pool area just below the spillway on February 27, 2017 in Oroville, California.

Swept away

oroville spillway

(Image credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

A small flow of water goes down Oroville Dam's crippled spillway Tuesday, Feb. 28, 2017, in Oroville, California.

Dramatic difference

oroville spillway from space

(Image credit: Expedition 50 crew/NASA/JSC)

The erosion in the Oroville Spillway can be seen from space on Feb. 22 in this image taken by a member of the Expedition 50 crew on the International Space Station. The outlet flow appears markedly wider halfway down the spillway.


massive erosion

(Image credit: Dale Kolke / California Department of Water Resources)

The massive amount of erosion can be seen from above in the diversion pool just below the spillway in this photo taken Feb. 27.

Tia Ghose
Tia has interned at Science News,, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and has written for the Center for Investigative Reporting, Scientific American, and ScienceNow. She has a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California Santa Cruz.