Water & Drought

Farm claims Oroville Dam crisis cost it $15 million

A Butte County farmer Wednesday filed a $15 million claim with the state over the crisis at Oroville Dam, saying water rushing down the Feather River wiped out part of a walnut orchard.

The claim was filed by JEM Farms and Chandon Ranch, which run a 2,000-acre walnut farm downstream of the dam.

Farmers along the Feather complained earlier this year that dramatic fluctuations in water flows from the dam in the aftermath of the February crisis caused damage to properties as riverbanks caved in. The claim by JEM and Chandon said water releases from Oroville led to “lost acreage, lost production and cleanup/remediation costs.”

“It not only flooded the farm, it wiped out trees that were on either side of the river,” said one of the farmers’ lawyers, Camilo Artiga-Purcell of the Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy law firm in the Bay Area. He said the farm lost about 21 acres of walnut trees.

George Onyett, manager of JEM Farms in Gridley, said riverbanks along four miles of farm property fell in because of sudden shutoffs of the Oroville Dam flood-control spillway. In some places, the banks fell dramatically.

“That’s not coming back,” he said. “That's gone.”

Several business owners and others have filed claims with the state Department of General Services over the Oroville crisis; the state has set an Aug. 11 deadline for filing.

State officials have said it’s not clear whether the fluctuation in water releases from Oroville harmed the river and those who farm along it between the shore and major flood protection levees. They argue that some bank erosion would have occurred regardless this year, given Northern California’s record rainy season.

Oroville’s main spillway suffered a massive crater Feb. 7, prompting operators to limit water releases in an effort to contain damage. When the lake filled up amid a giant rainstorm and 188,000 residents were forced to evacuate, dam operators ramped up water releases dramatically to reduce lake levels.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler

Related stories from Sacramento Bee