Oroville Dam Close-Call Leads to Improved Inspections

February 28, 2018

California's Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation Monday that will bring improved inspection processes and schedules to the state's 1,250 dams that are classified as high-risk under federal guidelines.

Above: Photo take February 7, 2017 by California Department of Water Resources who said at the time, "The California Department of Water Resources has suspended flows from the Lake Oroville flood control spillway after a concrete section eroded on the middle section of the spillway. There is no anticipated threat to the dam or the public. DWR engineers are assessing the options to repair the spillway and control the reservoir water level."

Assembly Bill 1270, introduced by James Gallagher who represents the citizens who were forced to evacuate in February 2017 when the Oroville Dam's spillways washed away, clarifies how often state dam officials must inspect and publicly report the condition of the dams.

The legislation is in response to the evacuation of 188,000 residents when the 770-foot Oroville Dam's spillways failed after record-setting rain. After the near-disaster was averted, it was found the dam's engineering was faulty and repairs were not done correctly.

Before Gallagher's bill, California's Water Code said inspections were to be performed "from time to time", according to a report in the Sacramento Bee.

Bill 1270 now requires high-risk dams be inspected every year with spillway control functions witness in operation at least every three years.

Dams classified as low-risk will be inspected every other year. California's Department of Water Resources will be required to consult with independent infrastructure experts to review safety and operations practices every ten years, as well as develop new emergency action plans.

Additionally, dam inspection reports will be released to the public in the California Public Records Act. The state estimates the more comprehensive inspection schedule will cost about $1 million per year.

The bill is effective immediately.

image: California Department of Water Resources