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Oroville Work to Spill into 2019; FEMA May Not Pay

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

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Work to repair California's Oroville Dam will last into 2019, according to the latest update from the agency in charge of the job, and state and local officials could be searching for a way to bankroll the massive project as the Federal Emergency Management Agency has yet to commit to funding it, and may not.

Officials with the California Department of Water Resources clarified last week that some work on the dam's emergency spillway will continue into 2019, though the bulk of the repairs will be complete by November. Work that will carry over into next year includes dry finishing and curing of concrete, sealing joints, backfilling side walls and site cleanup.

Oroville Dam
Kelly M. Grow / California DWR

If FEMA determines that the damage was the result of a failure to properly maintain the structure, rather than a product of a natural disaster, the agency could deny the DWR's request for further reimbursement in part or in whole.

The DWR had previously presented the entire rehabilitation as a two-year project starting after the February crisis at the dam and wrapping up in late 2018. Last summer, general contractor Kieweit Infrastructure requested and recieved permission to speed its work in order to meet the two-year deadline.

FEMA Reimbursement in Question

A bigger issue for the DWR: Officials from FEMA recently told members of Congress from California that the agency has yet to determine whether it will provide more funding for fixes to the dam, according to the San Jose Mercury-News. Damage to the main dam spillway was discovered during a period of heavy rain in February 2017, and the emergency spillway sustained damage when the DWR attempted a controlled release onto the unpaved spillway as a way to divert water from the main spillway.

The agency has already provided about $139 million for the repairs, according to the Mercury-News, but the DWR has requested $575 million more in federal emergency funds.

The independent forensic team charged with investigating the incident blamed an "inadequate priority for dam safety" at the DWR and a "somewhat overconfident and complacent" attitude at the agency for what it called a "systemic failure." If FEMA determines that the damage was the result of a failure to properly maintain the structure, rather than a product of a natural disaster, the agency could deny the DWR's request for further reimbursement in part or in whole.

The most recently updated estimate for the full cost of the project is $870 million, meaning that the DWR is hoping for FEMA to pay more than 80 percent of the total cost of the repairs.


Tagged categories: concrete; Funding; Locks and dams; Quality control

Comment from peter gibson, (5/17/2018, 5:41 PM)

Dam repairs don't fall under FEMA. Good luck DWR with that dream. Plus Ca not popular with WA. They will stick it to CA.

Comment from Michael Halliwell, (5/22/2018, 11:34 AM)

I could see a some emergency funds when the original flooding occurred and when emergency repairs were needed (as additional flooding was possible), but after that, it's California's baby for not having looked after their infrastructure.

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