By Angela Musallam

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — One year ago on Wednesday, state water officials discovered a failing spillway at the Oroville Dam.

Days later, an evacuation would send nearly 200,000 people running for their lives.

The estimated cost to repair it today? $870 million.

The Department of Water Resources is asking FEMA to help pay for 75 percent of the cost, but FEMA is balking, saying the spillway damage was caused by deferred maintenance.

“There is no alternative. The work has to get done, and it has to stay on schedule,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher.

The spillway collapse in 2017 was a wake-up call for Gallagher.
He’s now a driving force behind a bill which would require the Department of Water Resources and the Division of Dam Safety to update their inspection policies.

“That would have been helpful with Oroville, because everybody that’s looked at the original design said it was a faulty design,” Gallagher added.

A group of dam experts last month concluded the Oroville spillway was built incorrectly; they also said the warning signs of failure were ignored by multiple agencies for years.

“There were years of lax maintenance and oversight, so they should be the ones paying for it, the state should be responsible for that,” said Gallagher.

The Department of Water Resources, which oversees the Oroville Dam is asking FEMA to help cover 75 percent of the repair costs.

“DWR did not adequately maintain those facilities,” said Rep. John Garamendi, in a phone interview on Wednesday.

Garamendi says FEMA should not be helping with repair costs. He says the problem stems from the Delta Tunnels project, which he says was funded by agencies with other priorities.

That project was downsized on Monday to a single tunnel.

CBS13 asked if the state has enough money to pay for the spillway repairs if FEMA doesn’t step in?

Garamendi responded, saying “I can assure you the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California that was willing to spend $15 billion to $20 billion on their tunnels has the capability of paying $870 million to fix what they didn’t bother to maintain.”

The State Water Contractors would be responsible for footing the repair bill. CBS13 reached out to the agency Wednesday, but they declined to comment.

Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for DWR says it will “… continue construction at the Lake Oroville spillways project until repairs are completed in early 2019.”

DWR says it has already replaced most of the main spillway ahead of another potentially wet season.

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