Bill to Ramp Up Dam Inspections Now Law in California

View of Oroville Dam’s main spillway (center) and emergency spillway (top), February 11, 2017. The large gully to the right of the main spillway was caused by water flowing through its damaged concrete surface. (Photo: William Croyle/California Department of Water Resources – California Department of Water Resources

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) – In fallout from a near-catastrophe one year ago at the nation’s tallest dam, California Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday signed legislation amp up inspections of “high-risk” dams.

The bill by Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher mandates yearly inspections of dams considered high hazards and inspections every two years for facilities classified as low hazard. It also requires regulators to release dam inspection reports under California Public Records Act requests as well as updates to dam safety plans every 10 years.

Gallagher, whose district encompasses areas evacuated following the failure of Oroville Dam’s spillways, said his bill will help protect California’s aging water system.

“The Oroville disaster jeopardized lives, property, and California’s water supply and conveyance system,” Gallagher said in a statement. “The silver lining is that the crisis highlighted we must do more to ensure we are taking care of vital infrastructure, like the levees and dams that protect our communities.”

Assembly Bill 1270 was introduced in response to the February 2017 mass evacuation caused by the 770-foot dam’s obliterated spillways. Evacuation orders went out for several counties downstream of the dam with an estimated 188,000 residents displaced for several days.

Gallagher’s measure passed unanimously in both statehouses and takes effect immediately. According to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the heightened inspections and reports will cost the state around $1 million per year.

Inspectors will be busy with more than half of California’s 1,250 dams classified as high risk under federal guidelines. Gallagher’s measure supplements a 2017 budget trailer bill which required the California Department of Water Resources to quickly inspect and evaluate California’s largest spillways and create new emergency action plans.

The state is fighting several lawsuits filed by the city of Oroville, farmers and other residents affected by the emergency. Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy of San Francisco is representing many of the plaintiffs in state court.

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