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CA Bill Would Strip DWR's Power Over Dams

Thursday, May 3, 2018

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A bill making its way through the California General Assembly would remove the troubled Oroville Dam and other dams and water structures from the purview of the state’s Department of Water Resources, which has come under fire in the year since the dam’s problems came to light.

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

The DWR is being sued by a number of private individuals and businesses, as well as the City of Oroville, in relation to the crisis at Oroville Dam in February 2017. 

Assembly Bill 3045, introduced in February by Assemblyman James Gallagher, a Republican whose 3rd District encompasses much of the Feather River valley in the shadow of Oroville Dam, seeks to create a commission under the California Natural Resources Agency to make decisions regarding the State Water Plan, a system that includes storage, flood-control and hydroelectric dams, as well as a number of power plans and about 700 miles of canals.

Dam Crisis Spawns Suits

The SWP is currently part of the Department of Water Resources. The DWR is being sued by a number of private individuals and businesses, as well as the City of Oroville, in relation to the crisis at Oroville Dam in February 2017. Damage to the dam’s main spillway forced the DWR to put its emergency spillway into service for the first time in the structure’s nearly 50-year history, and erosion on the unpaved hillside put the concrete weir in danger of failing.

Officials evacuated 188,000 people living and working downstream of the dam along the Feather River for a period of days when the weir threatened to give. The DWR used a series of controlled releases on the damaged main spillway to keep the water level of Lake Oroville down as heavy rains continued to inundate the area.

Gallagher’s bill went before the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee on April 25 and passed the committee unanimously. Its next stop is the Assembly Committee on Appropriations, where it must pass in order to be considered by the Assembly as a whole.

The State Water Project Commission, as proposed, would be a nine-member body consisting of engineers, water-resources experts, a representative of Butte County and members of the public. As written, the bill would go into effect in July 2019.

Beyond allegations of mismanagement related to the dam itself, which a failure analysis blamed on “inadequate priority for dam safety” and a DWR that was “somewhat overconfident and complacent,” the lawsuit filed by the city against the DWR alleges a toxic culture within the agency that discouraged workers from whistleblowing.


Tagged categories: concrete; Government; Infrastructure; Locks and dams; NA; North America; Program/Project Management

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