On the anniversary of evacuations prompted by the near disaster at Oroville Dam, California lawmakers on Monday sent Gov. Jerry Brown a measure to tighten dam inspection standards.
The Assembly unanimously approved Assemblyman James Gallagher’s bill, which will require the California Department of Water Resources to annually inspect the vast majority of the 1,249 dams it oversees. Dams with low hazard potential would need to evaluated at least every other year under Assembly Bill 1270, which Gallagher, R-Yuba City, introduced last February after the evacuation of 188,000 downstream residents.
Inspections would need to study major structural dam features, such as spillways, and inspection reports would need to be available to the public, with certain sensitive information withheld. DWR would also need to consult with independent experts and update its safety protocols every 10 years. The bill also requires the testing of critical spillway control features each year and state inspectors to witness these features at least every three years.
The near failure of the Oroville Dam spillway marked a turning point for residents of communities located near the nation’s tallest dam, Gallagher said.
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“Shortly after that day, we vowed, ‘Never again.’ We will not allow ourselves to be needlessly put in fear and desperation,” Gallagher said. “We need a culture that manages (Oroville Dam) at the highest level of safety and risk management.”
Gallagher was joined by other lawmakers and members of the Oroville Dam Coalition, which is made up of local government officials, business owners and residents living near the dam. The coalition has urged the state to allow an independent committee to review the water department’s work to repair and re-license the dam. The state has put the cost of the emergency at $870 million.
Coalition members wore shirts Monday that read, “We Give A Dam.”
“By the time we’re done, the entire state is going to give a damn, because this is too important for us to miss,” Gallagher said. “We don’t just build these things and then watch them deteriorate and crumble. We need to constantly be on top of that infrastructure.”
Communities near the dam have suffered economically since last February, said Janet Goodson, vice mayor of Oroville.
“Currently, our city does not reflect a sense of normality,” Goodson said. “Local businesses and recreational areas that would normally attract a significant amount of tourism traffic and dollars continue to feel the devastating effects from the spillway incident due to ongoing construction and uncertainty surrounding the repair.”
Local residents want to be involved with DWR assessments of the repaired Oroville Dam in order “to feel secure,” said Sandy Linville, president and CEO of the Oroville Chamber of Commerce.
“We shoulder the disproportionate risk from living within the shadow of the nation’s tallest dam, and our opinions matter,” Linville said. “The Department of Water Resources has lost our trust, and they need to earn it back.”