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Business Owners Sue State Over Oroville

Monday, February 5, 2018

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Dozens of local farmers and other business owners are suing the California Department of Water Resources over last year’s crisis at the Oroville Dam, just weeks after the City of Oroville itself filed suit against the agency.

According to the Sacramento Bee, more than 40 businesses, from a walnut farm to a manufacturer of grocery bags, joined together to file the suit Wednesday, claiming hundreds of millions of dollars in damages stemming from the February 2017 evacuation downstream of the dam.

Oroville Dam spillway
Kelly M. Grow / California Department of Water Resources

The new suit stems from the February 2017 evacuation downstream of the Oroville Dam after damage was found on the concrete spillway.

The crisis arose after damage to the dam’s concrete spillway was uncovered, and initial attempts to use its emergency spillway caused erosion that led to the risk for uncontrolled releases of water down the Feather River valley. Record rainfall complicated efforts to maintain safety around the dam. The DWR was able to avert a catastrophe through controlled, low-volume releases on the main, damaged spillway, but 188,000 people were forced to leave their homes for days.

According to the Bee, the plaintiffs in the newly filed suit had previously filed claims for damages with the state’s Department of General Services, but were denied compensation, leading to the court action.

City Lawsuit

On Jan. 17, the City of Oroville sued the DWR in a blockbuster complaint that alleges mismanagement at the agency, as well as a hostile work environment including racist and sexist intimidation, which discouraged whistle-blowing.

The forensic team investigating the spillway issues, as well as independent investigators who have looked into the crisis since, have concluded that the problems began at the time of the dam’s design and construction in the 1960s and continued for decades as the DWR ignored signs of trouble.

The official forensic team stopped short of blaming the DWR specifically, calling the situation a “systemic failure” that wasn’t the direct responsibility of any one particular party. The city, however, argues in its suit that the DWR ignored and avoided issues related to dam safety, quoting one inspection report from 1996 that said spillway maintenance work was requested but “they never get to it. They are presently busy constructing a float for the Fourth of July fireworks show.”


Tagged categories: concrete; Infrastructure; Lawsuits; Locks and dams

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