Capitol Alert

Oroville-inspired dam inspection bill racing against legislative deadline

Oroville Dam spillway taking shape in this September 11 flyover

Fly right up the spillway at Lake Oroville as repairs continue during the week of September 11, 2017. In February, water flowing down the main Oroville Dam spillway during raging winter storms ripped a huge hole in that concrete structure.
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Fly right up the spillway at Lake Oroville as repairs continue during the week of September 11, 2017. In February, water flowing down the main Oroville Dam spillway during raging winter storms ripped a huge hole in that concrete structure.

The north state assemblyman who represents Oroville, where the threat of a dam collapse in February forced 188,000 downstream residents to evacuate, is racing to tighten inspection standards before the end of the legislative session Friday night.

Current law requires the state to conduct inspections from “time to time,” a guideline that Assemblyman James Gallagher says is not nearly stringent enough.

“We need to make sure we’re doing this routinely,” the Yuba City Republican said. “That’s something that we didn’t do at Oroville. It might have alerted us to the problem sooner.”

Assembly Bill 1270 would require the California Department of Water Resources to annually assess the safety of the vast majority of the 1,249 dams over which it has jurisdiction. Those with low hazard potential – about a quarter of dams – would need to be evaluated at least every other year.

The measure also establishes a minimum requirement to include major structural features of the dams, such as spillways, in the inspections, which will become public records. The department must update its own evaluation regulations by 2019, and at least every ten years thereafter.

The Senate fiscal committee held AB 1270 late last month in a secret vote; Gallagher is unsure of the reasons.

But after the release last week of a forensic report on the causes of the Oroville Dam crisis – which criticized state and federal officials for relying too heavily on visual inspections, while ignoring construction records and other documented clues about the dam’s troubled spillway – Gallagher approached Gov. Jerry Brown’s office about reviving his bill.

With the administration’s input, Gallagher amended AB 1270 late Tuesday. So under a new state law requiring all measures to spend at least 72 hours in print before a vote, it is not eligible to be heard until this evening.

That leaves only the waning hours of the session for the measure to be released from committee, pass a Senate floor vote, and then return to the Assembly for a concurrence vote that will send it to the governor’s desk.

Repairs continue at Oroville Dam. Anchors are placed, side walls are framed, and the first structural slab erected on the upper spillway. On February 7, 2017, dam operators released a gusher of water down the spillway to reduce water levels at Lak

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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