Months After Oroville Spillway Emergency, Lawmakers Aim to Prevent Similar Crisis

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SACRAMENTO — It’s been almost three months since the emergency at the Oroville Spillway. Now, state lawmakers​ want​ answers and a plan to prevent a similar incident.

“Let’s look forward and ask the question of what do we need to be doing in collaboration with the executive branch plan for these kinds of things and be more thoughtful, so we avoid this as best as we can?” Sen. Robert Hertzberg, chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, said Tuesday.

Inside the Capitol, the head of the Department of Water resources shed some light on the issues they expected — and the ones they didn’t.

“I believe the emergency spillway worked. It performed an emergency function with a broken spillway. We did take water over the top. Erosion was expected,” DWR Acting Director Bill Croyle said. “But the erosion of the rock was not expected. That’s what we’re going to fix.”

But not all shared Croyle’s views of what happened.

One of the biggest disagreements between the Department of Water Resources and the committee members was the idea of the emergency spillway — whether it was a success or a complete failure.

For Assemblyman James Gallagher, who represents the Oroville area, the answers from DWR in Tuesday’s hearing were not enough.

“I don’t understand why he says it didn’t fail. Or that it worked. It didn’t work. And we need to make sure that it is fixed permanently next time and I guess we’re just going to have to respectfully disagree on that point,” Assem. James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, said. “We need to get to the bottom of this, why that crumbled, why it broke apart. So we can make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

The DWR has cleaned up 1.6 million cubic yards of mud and debris from the base of the dam.

Some legislators believe that’s proof the emergency spillway failed – and pointed out that communication, including the release of documents, was also a problem.

At the hearing, the agency also laid out its plan to fix the spillway – a job they want done by November and will cost the state at least $275 million.

“That will get us started. The goal there is to replace the lower chute, the part that has been degraded and damaged extensively, as well as working our way up to the oppressive chute,” Croyle said.

Some lawmakers see this first hearing as a step in the right direction, but they vow to have more to keep residents informed and hold officials accountable.

“We will be very, vigorously watching monitoring and engaged with the department,” Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, told FOX40.

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