(SF GATE) Communities just downstream of California’s Lake Oroville dam would not receive adequate warning or time for evacuations if the 770-foot-tall dam itself — rather than its spillways — were to abruptly fail, the state water agency that operates the nation’s tallest dam repeatedly advised federal regulators a half-decade ago.

The state Department of Water Resources informed federal dam regulators that local emergency officials “do not believe there is enough time to perform evacuations in the communities immediately downstream of the dam during a sudden failure,” according to a Feb. 8, 2011, letter reviewed by The Associated Press.

Absent “significant” advance warning, emergency responders instead would likely withdraw to safer ground and prepare for victims, said the same letter by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees safety of hydroelectric dams, in a summary of the state’s conclusions.

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