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Mass evacuation as rain strains tallest US dam
By Josh Edelson
Oroville, United States (AFP) Feb 14, 2017

Ethiopia dam causes Kenya water shortage: rights group
Addis Ababa (AFP) Feb 14, 2017 - A huge newly-built Ethiopian dam is cutting off the supply of water to Lake Turkana in northern Kenya, rights group Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

The Gibe III dam, along with a network of sugar plantations, has caused the depth of Lake Turkana to drop by 1.5 meters from its previous levels since the dam's reservoir began filling in 2015, according to a HRW report.

In one part of Turkana, the world's largest desert lake, the shore has receded by nearly two kilometres, threatening the livelihoods of fishing communities.

"Ethiopia is in such a rush to develop its resources that these downstream individuals, who are completely marginalised, just aren't part of the equation," said Felix Horne, a HRW researcher.

Built at a cost of 1.5 billion euros ($1.6 billion), Gibe III is the third-most powerful dam in Africa and the highest, at 243 meters (800 feet) in height.

The dam, which has already caused some controversy, is expected to double the electricity output of Ethiopia.

The country was the continent's fastest-growing economy in 2015, but GDP is expected to take a hit due to a series of anti-government protests that targeted foreign businesses, and to an ongoing drought.

Environmentalists and the UN cultural body UNESCO have condemned Gibe III, saying they fear the dam will staunch the Omo River, which provides 80 percent of the water flow into Lake Turkana.

HRW has also criticised Ethiopia's government for uprooting people along the river to make way for sugar plantations.

Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn dismissed criticism of the dam in a speech inaugurating the project, saying Gibe III satisfied Ethiopia's power demands and allowed it to export electricity.

Ethiopia also plans 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) of sugar plantation in the Omo River valley, along with factories to process the cane.

Tens of thousands of hectares have already been cleared, but Horne says the development should be reduced to preserve Lake Turkana's water level.

"I think the most important thing by far is that the sugar plantations, which are very water-intensive, that those be cut back," Horne said.

At Turkana, communal clashes have broken out over access to scarce water supplies.

Should the lake drop further, Horne worries conflict will intensify.

Almost 200,000 people were under evacuation orders in northern California on Monday after a threat of catastrophic failure at the tallest dam in the United States.

Officials said the danger had subsided for the moment as water levels at the Oroville Dam, 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of Sacramento, had eased. But people were still being told to stay away.

Several weeks of heavy rain filled the 770-foot (235-meter) high dam to capacity.

The threat comes not from the dam itself, which the California Department of Water Resources said was not in danger of collapse, but an emergency spillway that channels excess water.

A giant hole opened in the dam's main spillway last week, forcing the authorities to activate the emergency overflow channel on Saturday for the first time.

But it began eroding, threatening a rupture that would have sent water surging toward the valley below, media reported.

the authorities released 100,000 cubic feet of water per second from the main spillway, bringing down the level of the reservoir Sunday, the Sacramento Bee newspaper said, quoting the water department.

The paper reported that advocacy groups had warned in 2005 that the spillway posed a danger in the event of major flooding and had recommended to the federal government that it be reinforced.

Department head Bill Croyle told a news conference near the danger zone that he was unaware of the advice, but pledged that engineers would analyze what went wrong once the crisis was over, the paper said.

The department did not respond to a request for comment on the report.

Helicopters readied overnight to drop rocks into eroded areas in the emergency spillway ahead of rain forecast for Wednesday and Thursday that could fill the reservoir again.

The California National Guard said on Facebook that it had alerted its 23,000 members to be ready to deploy.

- Military on standby -

Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told a news conference on Sunday that no more water was seeping over the spillway, adding: "We're not at the point yet where we can make decisions about whether or not it is safe to repopulate areas."

Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis told reporters on Monday the federal military was ready, if needed, to provide air transport, water rescue, medical care and shelter.

Some 188,000 people in downstream communities were told to leave on Sunday afternoon as water was still gushing over the top of the wide auxiliary spillway.

Officials in Butte County and Yuba issued "immediate evacuation" orders of low-lying area, with the Butte County Sheriff's department warning of a developing "hazardous situation."

"All Yuba County on the valley floor," the Yuba County Office of Emergency Services said in a Facebook post.

"The auxiliary spillway is close to failing... Take only routes to the east, south, or west. DO NOT TRAVEL NORTH TOWARD OROVILLE!!!!!"

Water from the dam flows down the Feather River that runs through Oroville, a city of about 20,000 people.

"It's clear the circumstances are complex and rapidly changing. The state is directing all necessary personnel and resources to deal with this very serious situation," Governor Jerry Brown said in a statement.

The Oroville Dam has been in use since 1968. Less famous than America's iconic Hoover Dam near Las Vegas, Oroville is still the tallest.



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Previous Report
Mass evacuation as rain strains tallest US dam
Oroville, United States (AFP) Feb 13, 2017
Almost 200,000 people were under evacuation orders in northern California Monday after a threat of catastrophic failure at the United States' tallest dam. Officials said the danger had subsided for the moment as water levels at the Oroville Dam, 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of San Francisco, had eased. But people were still being told to stay away. Several weeks of heavy rain had fill ... read more

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