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Trump Reverses CA Dam Fund Ruling

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

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Following an appeal made by a California agency, the Trump administration announced last month that it would reimburse California more than $170 million for repairs to the Oroville Dam spillway.

The assistance is part of a request made by the California Department of Water Resources to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for recovery funding, which was previously denied last year.

Oroville Dam Disaster

The Oroville spillway failed on Feb. 7, 2017, setting in motion a crisis when heavy rains forced the DWR to release water onto the never-used auxiliary spillway; the earthen auxiliary spillway eroded, threatening the stability of the concrete weir holding back the water of Lake Oroville.

By October, officials reported that the cost of repairs were likely to double after factoring in necessary design changes and additional work that had not been initially budgeted for.

Originally slated to cost $275 million—with the bid by Nebraska-based construction firm Kiewit—repairs reported to weigh in closer to $500 million, which account for a higher level of protection needed for the dam’s spillway, along with unforeseen issues with bedrock underneath.

The DWR set Nov. 1, 2017, as the initial deadline to get everything back in working order before the next rainy season; as a temporary measure, much of the spillway was filled with roller-compacted concrete. The deadline for the completion of the full reconstruction of the spillways was slated for Nov. 1, 2018, when the last concrete slabs were to be put in place.

By March 2018, Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. stated that construction of the underground wall below the Oroville Dam emergency spillway was completed.

The 1,450-foot-long wall was drilled 35-65 feet into the bedrock, and is one preventive measure, among others, that will help address the type of erosion that occurred there last year when the emergency spillway was pressed into service for the first time ever. A roller-compacted concrete splash pad is also currently under construction.

In May, phase two of the rehabilitation efforts commenced. However, also in May, officials fromFEMA told members of Congress from California that the agency had yet to determine whether it would provide more funding for fixes to the dam.

The agency already provided about $139 million for the repairs, according to the Mercury-News, but the DWR had requested $575 million more in federal emergency funds at the time for work that would continue into 2019.

Carry-over work included dry finishing and curing of concrete, sealing joints, backfilling side walls and site cleanup.

In November 2018, the DWR reported that the spillway was ready for the winter season. The final erosion-resistant concrete slab had been put in place on the main spillway on Oct. 11; crews placed 378 slabs in 2018, amounting to 612 ERC slabs used total in the repair work. The last ERC wall was placed a week later.

Near the two-year anniversary of the disaster, in February 2019, the spillway was rebuilt with crews still working on bringing the hillside back to its natural condition with grading and hydroseeding, expected to be completed by the spring.

In March, the Trump administration announced that it would not reimburse the state of California for much of the repair costs associated with the Oroville Dam incident, citing that the project did not meet eligibility for reimbursement—namely that the structure was poorly built and poorly maintained, rather than the incident being caused by a disaster.

“Two separate independent engineering reviews indicate that a variety of problems existed at the dam prior to the February 2017 floods,” said FEMA spokesperson, Brandi Richards, at the time. “FEMA’s Public Assistance can only fund work directly linked to the declared disaster, and so the grant assistance request of $306.4 million was not approved for the upper gated spillway.”

What’s Happening Now

Since its completion, the dam has been reconstructed to handle water flowing at a rate of 270,000 cubic feet per second, however, work still remains underway.

According to a report issued by an independent forensic team (organized by the Association of State Dam Safety Officials in January 2018), the dam’s owner was “significantly overconfident and complacent about the integrity of its State Water Project civil infrastructure, including dams.”

The report also claimed that periodic inspections of the infrastructure’s spillway failed to identify original design flaws and ongoing deterioration. However, those issues have been fixed since the rehabilitation.

In agreeing to pay back more than $170 million for the repairs, FEMA’s overall assistance for the Oroville Dam has totaled more than $562.5 million.

“In the future, I hope that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and DWR will work together to ensure that our dams are up to date with modern engineering standards,” State Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) said regarding FEMA’s decision. “I look forward to continuing to work with all parties to ensure the safety of our area and our water supply.”


Tagged categories: Funding; Government; Government contracts; Locks and dams; NA; North America; Ongoing projects; President Trump; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Rehabilitation/Repair

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