When the ongoing Oroville Dam spillway crisis forced the evacuation of more than 180,000 residents, California Water Service (Cal Water), which serves the cities of Oroville and Marysville and whose local employees and families were under the same threat as their customers, responded quickly to assist customers and partner with other emergency response agencies. The water utility immediately activated an emergency operations center (EOC) and embedded a manager in the Butte County EOC throughout the crisis. After establishing the safety of its customers and employees, Cal Water monitored the local water system to ensure it continued operating properly.

In a press release issued shortly after the spillway failed, Cal Water’s Interim Local Manager Rosanna Marino said, “Protecting the health and safety of our customers and employees is our highest priority, and while the evacuation order may have been inconvenient, we are glad that everyone is safe. We will continue to monitor our water system and the situation at the spillway closely and are prepared to act quickly should the need arise again.”

Knowing communications would be key during the emergency, Cal Water stayed in contact with customers in Oroville and Marysville before, during and after the evacuation in a variety of ways, including phone calls, emails and text messages, Facebook posts and press releases. To help alleviate the evacuees’ stress, Cal Water partnered with Cinemark 14 in the city of Chico (also served by Cal Water) to reserve seats at a movie theater for Oroville evacuees to watch The LEGO Batman Movie or La La Land at no cost. Cal Water also handed out bottled water and Valentine’s Day candy at the Chico Fairgrounds to residents displaced by the mandatory evacuation order.

During the crisis, Cal Water crews worked quickly with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Cal Fire and the State Water Resources Control Board to save almost 1 million steelhead trout eggs listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The eggs were adversely affected by the turbid spillway water flowing to the Feather River Fish Hatchery. Water from a fire hydrant was diverted through Cal Fire’s hose to a filtration system that removed the chlorine before the water was routed to the steelhead eggs, some of which were already hatching.

“Part of our commitment is to be a responsible steward of the environment,” said Cal Water’s Oroville District Manager Toni Ruggle (who retired from Cal Water at the end of April) in a press release. “So, when the Department of Fish and Wildlife contacted us with this urgent need to save the threatened steelhead eggs at the hatchery, we didn’t hesitate to do whatever we could to help.”

Ruggle went on to say, “We are a part of our community, and we are committed to our community members. In times like this, our team members from across the state come together to ensure not only that our water system remains operational, but also to support our residents. It’s part of our promise to provide quality, service, and value.”

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