Residents Say Spillway Crisis was ‘Manmade and Preventable’
YUBA CITY – Today, Assemblymember James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) released the results of a survey his office distributed to collect feedback in the aftermath of the Oroville Dam spillway disaster.
A full listing of survey results can be found here.
Gallagher summarized the findings, “This first comprehensive survey of those affected by the Oroville Dam failure shows that we still have a lot of work to do. There is a strong distrust of DWR, people are frustrated by a lack of transparency, and they know this disaster could have been avoided,” said Gallagher. “These results should serve as a wakeup call to state and federal agencies involved that they cannot simply fix the spillway and move on. The downstream impacts need to be addressed and long-term reforms are necessary. The status quo is no longer acceptable.”
KEY SURVEY FINDINGS
A DEMAND FOR TRANSPARENCY
After intense pressure from local leaders, citizens groups and the news media, DWR publicly released some inspection reports, memos, correspondence and other critical documents. However, many of these documents have been heavily redacted by DWR in order to protect ‘information that could be used for terrorist activity.’[i]
When asked about public safety, residents living downstream of Oroville Dam say they are more concerned with the operations and maintenance performed by DWR (84%) than they are of terrorists (3.6%). An overwhelming majority of residents (83.9%) say that all inspection and maintenance records should be made public.
DWR has attempted to open up lines of communication with the public by hosting a series of community meetings. However, more than two-thirds (73.1%) of residents who attended these public meetings stated that the information provided and responses to questions were insufficient.
The lack of transparency may be a contributing factor as to why so few residents (12.6%) believe the spillway reconstruction effort will be completed by the November 1st deadline.
HOLD ON THE 50-YEAR LICENSE
On February 11, 1957 the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued DWR a 50-year license to construct and operate the Oroville Dam facilities. The original license expired on January 31, 2007.[ii] Since 2005, DWR has been working to secure a new 50-year license. The timing and terms of the license renewal has now been put into question following the February spillway crisis.
Nearly all residents (85.1%) living downstream of Oroville Dam say that DWR should not be issued a new 50-year license to operate the dam until the cause of the spillway collapse has been identified, operations at the dam have been modified to address safety concerns and downstream impacts are addressed.
In August, a coalition of downstream stakeholders urged FERC to delay the issuance of the new license until certain conditions are met and outstanding mitigation needs are dealt with.[iii]
A PREVENTABLE CRISIS
FERC ordered the establishment of an independent Forensic Team to determine the root cause of the spillway incident. The Forensic Team is expected to release its final analysis in November 2017. Only about one-third (36.3%) of residents believe that Forensic Team will produce a fair and accurate assessment of what caused the spillway to collapse.
A preliminary memo released by the Forensic Team on September 5th stated that no comprehensive/independent review of original design and construction of the spillway was conducted since it was built decades ago. The Forensic Team stated that such a review would have 'connected the dots.'[iv]
It appears that the public is already convinced this disaster was the result of government failure. An overwhelming majority of survey respondents (78%) say that the spillway crisis was manmade and preventable. A small number of residents (16.5%) believe the spillway crisis was largely caused by record rainfall.
MORE KEY FINDINGS
Who should pay for repairs? Most (57.1%) say that water contractors benefiting and receiving water from Lake Oroville should finance the emergency and recovery efforts.
Level of financial loses? Nearly half (45.9%) of residents say they suffered financial losses as a result of the spillway failure and evacuation.
‘Green Spot’ concerns? Respondents believe that the question of the green spot, and whether it poses a threat to dam stability, has not been answered by DWR. Nearly half (45.3%) of residents ranked finding the cause of this wet spot as one of their top three issues they want addressed.
ABOUT THE SURVEY
The Oroville Dam survey was conducted from August 28-September 30, 2017. Surveys were mailed to every residence in the evacuated areas where a registered voter resides. The survey was also available online. A total of 3,322 residents completed the survey. Results are being shared with the California Department of Water Resources, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the State Water Contractors who finance the operations and maintenance of the Oroville Dam complex.
For more information on Assemblyman Gallagher, and to track legislation visit www.assembly.ca.gov/Gallagher
Assemblyman James Gallagher represents the 3rd Assembly District, which encompasses all of Glenn, Sutter, Tehama and Yuba counties as well as portions of Butte and Colusa counties.