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Model Replica Helping Oroville Dam Spillway Reconstruction Project

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — California engineers are using a model replica of the Oroville Dam Spillway disaster to test construction designs before implementation.

The plans to rebuild the spillway are a week ahead of schedule according to a project spokesperson. Crews are continuing to blast away parts of the concrete chute.

"Right now we are demolishing the part of the spillway that will be completely rebuilt this year," said Erin Mellon, with the California Department of Natural Resources and spokesperson for the Oroville construction project.

Crews at the Oroville Dam are removing two-thirds of the spillway concrete, which is roughly 2,000 feet. In the next 10 days, construction of the new spillway will begin.

"The goal for November 1 is to build an entirely new spillway," said Mellon.

But before the new construction plans are put in place, teams of engineers have looked at many options and designs.

"We're simulating approximately 750 vertical feet of elevation," said Michael Johnson, an engineer with the Utah Water Research Laboratory.

The construction plans are tested on a 1/50 scale model of the Oroville Dam Spillway built by Johnson and his team.

"The modeling removes some of the uncertainty. Some of the unknowns," Johnson explained.

He says the replica is a tool used by other engineers to text and explore ways to fix the spillway.

"We're looking at the capacity of the chute to make sure it has sufficient capacity to pass floods in excess of the flood that was experienced in February," said Johnson.

"It's a really quick way of modeling out how these different design changes might affect the flow of water down the spillway," said Mellon.

DWR has used the model to test different computer generations and analysis of a spillway fix.

"It is one component of a very large and complex project," said Mellon.

The mighty model in Utah is now helping engineers rebuild a 3,000-foot-long spillway that's as wide as a 16-lane freeway.

"We want to look at every option we possibly can to make sure we're picking the best solution," said Mellon.

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