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Bill beefing up dam inspections signed into law

Jake Abbott
Special to The Union
Water flows down the Oroville Dam's crippled spillway in Oroville, Calif., Feb. 28, 2017. An independent team of dam experts says bad design and construction a half-century ago contributed to a disastrous spillway collapse at the nation's tallest dam. Dam-safety experts investigating February's spillway failures at the Oroville Dam say California should have assessed the original flaws.
Associated Press File Photo | AP

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill into law Monday that will increase the frequency of inspections at the state’s most at-risk dams and require the Department of Water Resources to update dam safety protocols.

Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, authored Assembly Bill 1270 following the Lake Oroville spillway crisis last February that saw more than 180,000 people evacuate.

The bill was held up at the end of the Legislature’s session in 2017, but Gallagher and other proponents were intent on seeing it through in 2018. It passed both the Senate and Assembly unanimously in early February and was sent to Brown for final approval on Feb. 15.

“I think this was a much needed move forward, and we are delighted to see the governor signed it into law,” Gallagher said by phone on Monday. “There is still plenty to do, but this was one of the things we had to get right. This will ensure that our statute lays out the need for annual inspections at dams classified as significant hazard, and it will ensure that our reviews of dams include a deeper dive into things like geology and original design plans.”

Before the bill, the statute required dam inspections “from time-to-time.” Now, DWR must inspect all dams classified as “significant” hazard as least once per year, and “low” hazard dams at least once every two fiscal years. The new law will also set new standards for what must be done during an inspection. Lastly, it will require that all inspection reports are made available for public review.

“The bill will take effect immediately and gets the ball rolling on improving dam safety protocols,” Gallagher said. “I think it’s definitely a good first step, but we still have other things we’d like to see happen.”

Gallagher said he, along with the Oroville Dam Coalition, would like to see additional improvements at Lake Oroville that will ensure an event like last year’s will never happen again. He said sediment still needs to be removed from the Feather River, and projects to reduce flood risk need to be seen through. He also said recreational opportunities need to be improved at Lake Oroville.

“The Oroville disaster jeopardized lives, property, and California’s water supply and conveyance system,” Gallagher said in a press release. “The silver lining is that the crises highlighted we must do more to ensure we are taking care of vital infrastructure, like the levees and dams that protect our communities. AB 1270 will help us do this by ensuring that California leads national and global efforts to update and modernize dam safety requirements.”

Jake Abbott writes for the Marysville Appeal Democrat. He can be reached at jabbott@appealdemocrat.com.

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