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Board Supports Coalition Letter Regarding Future Operation of Oroville Dam, Seeks To Make Safety The Priority Going Forward
April 12, 2017

The Sutter County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday, April 11, to add its support to a letter being circulated among communities downstream from Oroville Dam that expresses certain concerns and asks several questions about the operation of the dam and its spillways.

Following the damage to the main spillway at Oroville Dam and the evacuation of large parts of three downstream counties when the Department of Water Resources informed them of an imminent threat of failure of the emergency spillway, a loose coalition of downstream individuals and organizations has been forming.

Two meetings, guided by Assemblyman James Gallagher and State Senator Jim Nielsen, have occurred and the result is the draft letter to California Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr., and Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird.

The letter acknowledges the flood control benefits of Oroville Dam, but expresses the concern that those of us in communities immediately downstream of the dam have little to no say in how it is operated and maintained. The letter asks a number of questions and makes a number of requests. The letter seeks:

  • Additional flood storage in the reservoir, noting that reservoir operations do not account for climate change and there is too much water left in the reservoir during times when we have a large snowpack. (This is the same request made by Sutter County after the 1997 flood).
  • Better communication and greater transparency from the Department of Water Resources.
  • Understanding that the safety of those who live downstream from the dam--not fisheries protection, State Water Contractor priorities, politics, or other issues—be the top priority in the design of the repair projects for the spillways.
  • Modernization of the infrastructure at the dam, and an expansion of the use of remote sensors and other technology to improve forecasting of reservoir levels.
  • Full and thorough reviews of the way the dam has been designed, constructed, operated and maintained, including Legislative oversight hearings.
  • Public discussion and consideration of who should operate the dam going forward, and how it should be operated.
  • Improved downstream flood protection, including addressing constrictions in the river channel; critical levee repairs in District 10 in Yuba County, south of Yuba City, and south of Nicolaus; and an assessment of the magnitude of (and a plan to mitigate) debris entering and remaining in the river channel as a result of the operation of the reservoir.
  • A discussion about how business and property losses, lost wages, and damages to public and private property can be compensated.

(Photo: Contractors from Syblon Reid continue concrete work around the Lake Oroville emergency spillway in Butte County, California. Photo taken April 3, 2017.)