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Hearing held on Oroville Dam Spillway crisis at state capitol

On Wednesday, state legislators held a hearing at the state capitol about the Oroville Dam Spillway and heard a testimony from the then-director of the Department of Water Resources.

Posted: Jan. 10, 2018 6:18 PM
Updated: Feb. 9, 2018 10:29 AM

On Wednesday, state legislators held a hearing at the state capitol about the Oroville Dam Spillway and heard a testimony from the then-director of the Department of Water Resources.

The joint hearing – with the Assembly Accountability and Administrative Review Committee and the Assembly Water, Parks, & Wildlife Committee – focused on an update from the DWR about what's been happening since the incident, as well as the procedures being put in place to make sure it doesn't happen again.

Assemblyman James Gallagher is the Vice-Chair of the Water Parks & Wildlife Committee and an open critic of the DWR.

He said there were some good discussions that happened at the hearing.

“The fact that this incident happened to the owner of the tallest dam in the United States, under regulation of a federal agency with repeated evaluation by reputable outside consultants, in a state with the leading dam safety regulatory program, is a wake-up call for everyone,” said DWR Chief Deputy Director Cindy Messer.

“The legend was that the state water project was built to best practices at the time, and there's a little overconfidence that comes out of that; that the stuff is really good infrastructure, that we don't really need to worry about that.  And, well, maybe we need to be a little more critical, more questioning, and worry about it a little bit more,” said John France, the lead member of the Independent Forensic Team.

But Gallagher, an evacuee himself, was disappointed about a big thing that was missing. He says the DWR is always very apologetic, but there has never been a real admission of guilt.

“They don't want to say ‘hey, we were deficient.’ And that's what the forensic report says; it says they have some significant organization problems and human factor problems they need to address, and there just wasn't enough of that admission,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher.

Gallagher also said the forensic report identifies some systematic problems including a group-think mentality at the department, which helped overlook some of those fundamental problems.

“There’s a lot of distrust in the community, and rightfully so, because we've had 50 years of what this forensic team has called inadequate public safety priorities out of the DWR,” Gallagher said.

He and the community want, at the very least, for the department to develop a strong culture of public safety and make that the top priority, and keep issues like delivering water and generating power as secondary.

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