Water & Drought

Jerry Brown signs dam inspection bill prompted by Oroville scare

Water trickles down as workers inspect part of the Lake Oroville spillway failure on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, the day after the structure cracked in two.
Water trickles down as workers inspect part of the Lake Oroville spillway failure on Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2017, the day after the structure cracked in two. rpench@sacbee.com

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed legislation that would tighten dam inspection standards following last year’s near catastrophe at Oroville Dam.

On Monday, Brown signed Assembly Bill 1270 authored by James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, whose constituents were among the 188,000 people forced to evacuate last February when a huge hole formed in the dam’s main spillway and its emergency spillway nearly washed away.

The bill codifies practices that state dam officials already were largely doing, but that the state’s Water Code only required they perform “from time to time.”

That includes requiring the state 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 be evaluated at least every other year.

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.

The bill requires the testing of critical spillway control features each year and state inspectors to witness those features at least every three years. DWR also would need to consult with independent experts and update its safety protocols and every 10 years.

Gallagher said that was arguably the most important part of the legislation, since it would “ensure that we’re at the top level of dam safety and not in the middle.”

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