SACRAMENTO, CALIF. — California will beef up dam inspections under legislation sent to Gov. Jerry Brown recently, a year after a near disaster prompted the evacuation of nearly 200,000 residents living downstream from the tallest U.S. dam.
The Assembly unanimously gave final approval to the bill requiring annual inspections for dams deemed to be high hazards.
The measure also sets standards for inspections, requires inspectors to consult with independent experts to update dam safety measures every 10 years and requires that inspection reports be available to the public with certain sensitive information withheld if it creates a security risk.
Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher was among those who evacuated when officials feared the collapse of both the main and emergency spillways before they were deemed safe days later.
“We left not knowing if we would even have a home to return to. But we came back vowing ‘Never again,’” said Gallagher, who sponsored the bill. “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 of 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.
The federal rankings are based on factors including the size of the dam and its degree of risk to people downstream, not the dam’s current condition.
A separate new law requires California dam inspectors to also consider the dam’s condition. California has 678 dams deemed high hazard, 271 deemed significant hazard and 289 low hazard under the federal guidelines.
Officials and residents of communities downstream from Oroville Dam, many wearing black “We Give A Dam” T-shirts, later called for the state to pay more than $1 billion in damages claims in pending lawsuits, and for the federal government to include community representatives in dam relicensing discussions.
“We shouldn’t have to host this bathtub without being made whole,” Butte County Supervisor Bill Connelly said at a Capitol news conference.