What's next for the Oroville Dam?

Oroville, Calif.--The failure of the spillway wasn't just a scary experience for Oroville, but also a costly one for a city that was already struggling financially. Right now, costs are up by millions of dollars, but it’s crucial to repair the dam which provides water for more than 25 million Californians.

Posted: Feb. 14, 2018 6:12 PM

Oroville, Calif.--The failure of the spillway wasn't just a scary experience for Oroville, but also a costly one for a city that was already struggling financially. Right now, costs are up by millions of dollars, but it’s crucial to repair the dam which provides water for more than 25 million Californians.

Kiewit construction crews continue to be hard at work making repairs on the Oroville Dam Spillway. Construction is being done in two phases, with the first completed in November.

Crews have finished the emergency spillway crest wall, which is an underground secant pile wall that's being built up to 65 feet into bedrock.

They’re also preparing a roller compacted concrete splash pad, and crews will install a buttress at the base later this year.

"The RCC splash pad in conjunction with the secant pile wall will armor the existing terrain reducing the type of uphill erosion that occurred last February if the emergency spillway were ever to be used again," said Ted Craddock, assistant deputy director for the Department of Water Resources.

That is expected to be completed by next month.

As for the main spillway, the original 730 feet leading up to the radial gates will be removed and replaced with structural concrete.
Crews will also install a 2.5 foot layer of structural concrete over the roller compacted concrete in the middle of the main chute. Of the 234 structural concrete slabs placed last year, three didn't cure properly and may have to be fixed later this year.

With this many repairs needed and more to come, what's the cost associated with them, and who's paying for it?

Last fall's estimates was about $650 million dollars, but new estimates have increased it by 25% now at $870 million.

"That includes the debris and sediment removal, powerline replacement, creation of access roads, staff time, technical consultants, and interagency support," said Erin Mellon, spokesperson for the DWR.

The state has asked FEMA to reimburse 75-percent of that 870 million, but that request is being met with hesitation from the federal government.

FEMA representatives say they can't fund a project in which a "lack of maintenance" caused the issue and can only bring facilities back to their "pre-disaster design."

“A big part of the problem is they’ve been able to hand it off, there’s measures that could’ve been done. So you get into the point where the federal government does not step in on projects or emergencies where there was negligence by the entities that own that or govern that,” said Congressman Doug LaMalfa.

So far FEMA has approved a reimbursement of nearly $87 million of the $116 million being asked for. Anything they don't reimburse will be billed to the state water project contractors.

Now the question many want answered--how will this be prevented in the future?

“We finally need this dam to do right by Oroville and the downstream communities that are affected," said Assembly member James Gallagher.

Outside the state capitol Monday, Gallagher praised the passage of Assembly Bill 1270, which he co-authored along with Senator Jim Nielsen.

"I think it's an important first step, improving dam safety inspections to ensure that we catch things early in time to make sure that we don't have situations like we had at the Oroville dam one year ago," Gallagher said.

Under this new bill, the state's more than 1,500 dams will be inspected at least once a year and will have to pass a new criteria, including an evaluation of monitoring equipment, and assessments of geologic and seismic conditions.

Many argued that the DWR has not been transparent, and that's why this bill will also require all dam inspection reports to be made public through the California Public Records Act.

Gallagher said this bill is just the first of many to make dams safer for future generations.

"We give a damn, and by the time we're done, the entire state is going to give a damn. Because this is too important for us to miss, it's important for all of us," he said.

In a passionate speech, Vice Mayor Janet Goodson said that despite the troubles of the past year, the city is looking ahead to better days.

"We are going to continue to move forward, we are going to embrace whatever the future may hold and we will do what is necessary to get back to, to revitalize, and to enhance the buoyancy of our city," Goodson said.

The bill is headed to the governor's desk, which he is expected to sign.

As construction continues on the Oroville Dam, the state is facing many different lawsuits including one from the city of Oroville, Butte County, and farmers.

Repairs at the dam are expected to be completed early next year, but perhaps the most challenging fix may be restoring the public's trust in the Department of Water Resources.

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