California Governor signs bill for safety of dams and reservoirs

Assembly Bill No. 1270 has been signed by California Governor Jerry Brown, requiring the California Department of Water Resources to inspect dams, reservoirs and appurtenant structures once per fiscal year.

This replaces existing law, which requires DWR to inspect dams and reservoirs “from time to time.” This bill arose primarily from the spillway incidents at Oroville Dam that occurred in February 2017.

The new bill has several other facets, including:

  • Requiring the owner of a dam to operate critical outlet and spillway control features on an annual basis and to demonstrate their full operability in the presence of DWR every three years or as directed by DWR.
  • Providing that dam inspection reports are public records subject to the California Public Records Act and DWR is authorized to withhold from public release sensitive data, images or other information if this information would disclose a dam’s vulnerability or pose a security threat.
  • Requiring the Division of Safety of Dams to propose amendments to its dam safety inspection and reevaluation protocols to incorporate updated best practices, including risk management, to ensure public safety.
  • Requiring DWR to provide on its website the dam safety inspection and reevaluation protocols, a schedule for the update, and any updates.
  • Requiring DWR to report to the governor and legislature on amendments developed pursuant to these provisions and to notify dam owners and the legislature of DWR’s intent to update dam safety inspection and reevaluation protocols prior to amending the protocols.

Click here to read the bill.

Oroville has been much in the news in recent weeks.

DWR published an update on spillway construction work on Feb. 21, saying construction of the underground secant pile wall for the emergency spillway was 95% complete, while phase two of construction on the main spillway is expected to begin in May.

In addition, there have been reports of several lawsuits filed, including the Butte County District Attorney’s office filing a lawsuit against DWR, on behalf of the people of California, for environmental damages to the Feather River. Civil penalties could be as high as $51 billion.

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