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CA Enacts New Dam Inspection Law

Friday, March 2, 2018

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California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a new bill this week boosting requirements for the inspection of the state's dams in the wake of last year’s crisis at the Oroville Dam.

Assembly Bill 1270, to take effect immediately, was approved by the governor Monday (Feb. 26) and filed with the secretary of state the same day. It requires annual inspections of all “dams, reservoirs and appurtenant structures,” except for “low hazard potential” dams, which can be inspected every two years.

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

Last year's crisis at the Oroville Dam, when the main spillway sustained concrete damage and an emergency spillway caused major erosion, led to the newly passed dam-safety law.

Previous law had only required that the Department of Water Resources inspect dams and reservoirs “from time to time.”

Other Provisions

The new law also requires dam owners to “operate critical output and spillway features” annually. The emergency spillway at Oroville had never been used in the dam’s more than 50 years of operation before it was needed in February 2017; when the DWR attempted to use it, the hillside eroded to the point where the concrete weir holding back the reservoir was in danger of collapsing and sending an uncontrolled release downstream in the Feather River valley. This danger was what forced the evacuation of more than 200,000 residents for a period of days.

The new law makes dam inspection records public, though the state can keep information that poses a security risk confidential.

The bill was sponsored by James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, whose district includes the dam and parts of the valley that were evacuated during the crisis.

Construction on the main spillway, damage to which precipitated the 2017 emergency at the dam, will continue in May, weather-dependent.


Tagged categories: Government; Infrastructure; Inspection; Locks and dams

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