SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — It’s been one year since nearly 200,000 people were evacuated over fears the Oroville Dam auxiliary spillway could fail.
Now, one assemblyman is vowing to bring big changes to the Department of Water Resources.
Assembly Bill 1270 calls for closer, more detailed inspections of the Oroville Dam and new protocols, which include taking a deeper dive into the original design of the dam.
“One year ago today, we once again experienced the sick paralyzing fear in the pit of our stomachs,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher, the author of the bill.
As sunset drew near on Feb. 12, 2017, concerns over possible erosion on the Oroville Dam auxiliary spillway prompted officials to make the call to evacuate. Poor lighting around the spillway would make it difficult to determine any issues arising overnight, and the massive evacuation would take time.
Residents remained evacuated for days until the situation was deemed safe by authorities and as Lake Oroville’s levels receded. The auxiliary spillway failure didn’t happen, but concerns over the bare spillway as well as the sudden failure of the main spillway earlier in the week prompted calls for change.
“The original design had deficiencies, and everybody who has looked at that said that was the case,” said Gallagher.
He’s pushing for more oversight at the Oroville Dam and more in-depth inspections which he says up until now, were superficial.
“Our current statute says the dam should be inspected from time to time. Obviously, this is completely insufficient,” Gallagher added.
Michael Morris was one of many evacuees forced to race to safety one year ago Monday when residents were ordered to evacuate.
“I couldn’t believe what was going on,” Morris said.
Morris had been patrolling the levees in Yuba City when he got the call.
Another evacuee who lives right next to the Feather River recounts going into fight-or-flight mode.
“We had to make a decision if we were gonna stay one or move out overnight,” said Michelle MacDonald.
Gallagher says his bill would require DWR to set higher standards for dam inspections and work with outside agencies and experts to develop more detailed protocols.
“Never again, we will not allow ourselves to be needlessly put in fear and desperation,” the Assemblyman announced at his rally.
Since the mass evacuation, Morris makes it a point to get a tour of the Oroville Dam every few months, while many across the North State hold their breath — hoping they’ll never have to re-live Feb. 12, 2017, again.
“By the time we are done, the whole state is going to give a damn,” Gallagher concluded.
The Oroville Dam is inspected at least once a year according to DWR officials. They say the main spillway has already been repaired.