Oroville Dam repairs could harm tourism. This might help

California officials want to accelerate long-awaited improvements to Oroville Dam’s recreational facilities, hoping to compensate for the damage to tourism expected from lengthy repairs to the dam’s flood-control spillways.

In a letter to federal officials, the Department of Water Resources on Thursday asked for permission to expand boat ramps and parking facilities at four different spots around Lake Oroville. The projects would begin sometime this fall and be completed in spring 2018.

Fixing the damage to Oroville’s two spillways will take two years and knock out of commission one of the reservoir’s most important recreational facilities – the combination boat launch, picnic area and RV campground at the emergency spillway. Nearly half of Lake Oroville’s boat launch capacity is at the spillway; it’s also a major parking area.

Area residents, already angry at DWR over the dam emergency that forced mass evacuations in February, have complained that tourism is going to suffer over the next two summers. That fear has added to their long-standing frustration over the state of Lake Oroville’s recreational facilities.

DWR in 2006 tentatively agreed to spend $438 million on upgrading those facilities over 50 years. But the plan has been in limbo because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which licenses the dam, hasn’t signed off.

In the interim, DWR asked the federal agency this week to allow certain improvements to go forward this fall. DWR is proposing expanding the boat launch facilities at the Lime Saddle and Bidwell Canyon areas, and the boat ramp at the Enterprise area. Parking would be increased at the Saddle Dam trailhead.

“They’re trying to fast-track this,” said Oroville businessman Kevin Zeitler, chairman of a committee that advises DWR on recreational issues at the lake. “DWR is trying to do the right thing.”

Information on the cost of the upgrades wasn’t immediately available.

Dale Kasler: 916-321-1066, @dakasler