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Oroville Dam: Two years after the mass evacuation, here’s where we are

OROVILLE — Two years ago today, about 188,000 people were ordered to evacuate for fear the damaged Oroville Dam spillway would fail.
While the worst fears never materialized, the incident had impacts still felt in the community. It also spawned new legislation related to dam safety, a modern rebuild of the spillway, and many lawsuits against the state Department of Water Resources.
This is by no means a comprehensive summary, but below are some major updates related to the spillway crisis.
Reconstruction continues
Both the main and emergency spillways are still under reconstruction.
DWR said the main spillway was ready to be used again by its Nov. 1, 2018, deadline. However, some minor work there is still ongoing, including site clean-up and sidewall backfill. Contractors are also working to bring the hillside back to its natural state by grading and hydroseeding. That work will be ongoing “well into spring 2019,” according to DWR.
Work on the emergency spillway continues as well. Currently construction crews are placing a concrete cap on top of a new buttress made of roller-compacted concrete.
Recreation advocacy
The Feather River Recreation Alliance, led by Oroville residents, continues to meet and advocate for those impacted by the dam crisis and aftermath. One major effort the alliance is focused on now is gathering signatures for a petition to present to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, with a request for an “independent, comprehensive assessment of the dam and fair treatment for the downstream communities.” The alliance’s goal is to get 8,000 signatures.
Safety group
The dam safety group led by Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, and John Yarbrough of DWR met Jan. 10 for the third time with other community leaders, DWR representatives and the Independent Review Board. The group is analyzing the comprehensive needs assessment for Oroville Dam which is being prepared and is expected to be finished in 2020. Related Articles





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Long-term changes to the dam’s operations and infrastructure, including possibilities like the addition of a second gated spillway, are being considered in the assessment, DWR has said previously.
Lawsuits
A trial date of June 1, 2020 has been set for many of the lawsuits against DWR over the Oroville Dam crisis. Plaintiffs include the city of Oroville, Butte County, PG&E and several proposed classes, among others. More information can be found on the Sacramento County Superior Court website . The case number is JCCP 4974.
DWR has filed a petition to add to the coordinated proceeding the Butte County District Attorney’s lawsuit against the department over environmental damages from the dam crisis. This appears to be the only suit pending against DWR over the incident that is not part of the proceeding already. For court documents, search for case number 18CV00415 on the Butte County Superior Court website .
Riverbend
A soft opening of Oroville’s Riverbend Park, which suffered extensive flooding damage during the spillway crisis, is scheduled for mid-February and a grand opening is expected to coincide with the Wildflower Festival in April. The opening has been pushed back several times due to vandalism.
DWR confirmed last week that it still intends to reopen the spillway boat launch ramp and the road across the dam to access it this summer. Both features have been closed to the public since the spillway first split open two years ago. The boat launch facility is the largest in the Lake Oroville State Recreation Area.
Legislation
A bill signed into law by the president last year, the 2019 Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill, requires an independent review of the Oroville Dam facility. Specifically, it requires the licensee of the Oroville Dam to request that the U.S. Society on Dams nominate independent consultants to prepare a risk analysis. The Oroville resident-led Feather River Recovery Alliance said this was not the “comprehensive, independent assessment” that the group sought.
A bill proposed by Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Red Bluff, to create a citizens advisory commission for the dam also was signed into law last year by then-Gov. Jerry Brown. Senate Bill 955 creates a 19-member commission to provide a forum for residents and state officials to discuss reports, maintenance and other ongoing issues related to the dam.
By the numbers
$1.1 billion:  Estimated cost to repair the Oroville Dam facility
612:  Erosion-resistant concrete slabs installed in phases one and two
270,000:  Cubic feet per second of water that can go down spillway at a time

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