1 year after Oroville crisis, California lawmakers approve tougher dam inspections


A year after a near-disaster at Oroville Dam prompted the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people, the California Assembly voted to beef up inspections at hundreds of dams across the state.

AB 1270 was approved unanimously Monday on the Assembly floor and now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature. The bill, authored by Yuba City Assemblyman James Gallagher, would require annual inspections for high-risk dams and comes as repairs continue at Oroville Dam.


The crisis at Oroville prompted an emergency exodus on Feb. 12, 2017, of some 188,000 people living downstream of Oroville Dam. After water releases from the main spillway were stopped to due erosion spotted in the concrete days before, water started flowing over the emergency spillway. However a day later, officials ordered a mass evacuation of communities downstream when erosion was spotted on the emergency spillway, threatening a collapse that could have created a 30-foot wall of water.

Scott Thomson, an Oroville city councilmember, said he remembers getting his family to safety.

“And then you realize the potential of water coming down and flooding your house and your family,” he said. “It definitely was a fearful thing for the community.”

Thomson wants to see more rigorous dam inspections.

“The community really has a sense of a loss of trust for (the Department of Water Resources),” Thomson said.

Gallagher’s bill calls for annual inspections on hundreds of dams in California because current state law only requires inspections “from time to time.”

“From time to time has this mentality that, I think, has been the case for too long,” the Yuba City Republican said.

Gallagher said DWR’s mindset has been, “‘We’ll get to it when we get to it.’ And that’s just not sufficient. Not for the safety of my community.”

Under Gallagher’s bill, inspections for Oroville and other dams would require experts from outside the DWR to review the work done by the state.


Currently, dam inspections are not required to be made public. AB 1270 would change that.

“The reports need to be made public,” Gallagher added.

The idea of more inspections and more dam transparency is appealing to Joyce Haas and her family.

“If you don’t take care of things, you get Oroville,” Haas said. “So, I think it’s important to take care of what we’ve got.”

But some people worry about who would pay for the additional inspections.

“Safety is always the first concern and safety comes at a cost,” Roseville resident Rebecca Durrin said. “So obviously, there would be a cost associated. So just where it would come from would be an interesting thing to find.”

Water users would pay for the cost of inspections. Multiple water agencies around the state use water from Oroville, and they would also pay for the additional inspections.

Folsom Dam is run by the federal government — not the state — so it would not be affected by AB 1270.

As for the DWR, officials there did not return phone calls or emails from KCRA 3. But Gallagher said the department did work with his office to write the legislation.


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