SACRAMENTO — The California Department of Water Resources would be required to beef up dam inspections under a bill sent to Gov. Jerry Brown on Monday, a year to the day after spillway failures at Oroville Dam prompted evacuation orders for an estimated 188,000 people.
The state Assembly unanimously gave final approval to the bill requiring annual inspections for dams deemed to pose high or significant hazards — the great majority of California dams. The rating is based on the size of the reservoir behind each dam and the number of people who live downstream, not the dam’s condition.
The measure, AB 1270 by Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, also sets standards for inspections and requires the DWR’s Division of Safety of Dams to consult with independent experts to update dam safety measures every 10 years. The bill requires that inspection reports be available to the public, with certain sensitive information withheld if it creates a security risk.
Gallagher was among those who evacuated when officials feared an uncontrolled release of water from overflowing Lake Oroville on Feb. 12, 2017. The evacuation was ordered after the dam’s main spillway failed catastrophically and the adjacent emergency spillway suffered severe erosion.
“We left not knowing if we would even have a home to return to. But we came back vowing ‘Never again,’ ” Gallagher said at a press conference featuring Oroville-area officials and community members after the bill passed. “This disaster jeopardized lives, property and California’s water supply.”
The bill implements several subsequent experts’ recommendations, including requiring that inspectors no longer simply accept the safety presumed in original design and construction materials, said Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman, D-Stockton.
The annual inspections would be required for dams classified as being significant, high or extremely high hazards, and every two years for dams classified as low hazard. Critical spillway control features would have to be tested each year and witnessed by state inspectors at least every three years.