Jerry Brown says the state needs to spend some money to maintain its dams, roads and other public works during a Feb. 24, 2017 press conference at the Capitol. Video courtesy of the California Channel. Jim Miller The Sacramento Bee
Jerry Brown says the state needs to spend some money to maintain its dams, roads and other public works during a Feb. 24, 2017 press conference at the Capitol. Video courtesy of the California Channel. Jim Miller The Sacramento Bee

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Capitol Alert

Jerry Brown wants to spend nearly $450 million on flood control following dam emergency

By Christopher Cadelago and Jim Miller

ccadelago@sacbee.com

February 24, 2017 11:28 AM

After successfully appealing to the Trump administration for help with the Oroville Dam emergency, Gov. Jerry Brown announced Friday that he wants to accelerate state spending to reduce flood risks as he asked Washington to expedite federal environmental reviews on several projects, including repairs to the dam’s spillway.

The Democratic governor’s flood protection plan combines $50 million in existing general fund money with $387 million from the $7.5 billion water bond approved by voters in 2014.

Brown, who made a surprise visit to the dam’s incident command post Wednesday, said the state faces tens of billions of dollars in infrastructure needs.

“There is real work to be done,” Brown told reporters at the Capitol, calling the proposed allotments “basic government needs.”

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“We got to belly up to the bar and start spending money,” he added.

Friday’s funding package does not include any money to repair the Oroville Dam’s main spillway or its emergency spillway, where erosion prompted the evacuation of 188,000 people below the dam Feb. 12.

That expense is the responsibility of the more than 20 water districts and other water contractors that get water from the reservoir, the Department of Finance said Friday.

The Department of Water Resources does not yet have a cost estimate for the spillway repairs, a spokesman said Friday. The association representing state water contractors could not be reached for comment.

The $387 million in accelerated Proposition 1 spending would pay for high-priority flood prevention projects through June 2018. Those include reducing urban flood risks, particularly in the Sacramento and Stockton regions, maintaining levees, and building levee setbacks.

The $50 million in redirected general fund money will pay for more immediate needs, such as stockpiling sandbags and other flood-fighting equipment as well as better coordination between government agencies.

Also Friday, the administration announced that it will propose legislation requiring dams to have an emergency action plan that is updated every 10 years, as well as maps showing areas that would be flooded if there was a complete dam failure or other major problem.

Under the proposal, the state Department of Water Resources could impose fines and other measures for violators.

Federal emergency officials earlier this month approved Brown’s requests to pay for January storm damages and to support the unfolding response to the emergency at the distressed dam.

California legislators also have taken an interest. A bipartisan group has been taking aerial tours of the site amid preparations for next week’s oversight hearing to review what happened in Oroville, including issues with the emergency spillway that forced the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people along the Feather River Basin.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, D-Los Angeles, has said he wants to provide $500 million in competitive grants to local and regional agencies for flood protection.

State water resources officials and the Butte County sheriff were feeling optimistic Tuesday, Feb. 21, 2017, as inflows into Lake Oroville were dropping. They said an emergency spillway on Oroville Dam was unlikely to be redeployed and an evacuation warning for residents might soon be lifted after the latest storms. Peter HechtThe Sacramento Bee

On Friday, Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, said he was pleased with Brown’s proposed action to expedite repair of the spillways and increase flood control spending.

“It shows that we will do everything necessary to make the dam and communities below it safe. Providing the funding and environmental streamlining is essential to getting that job done now,” Gallagher said.

“We also need to have an immediate, robust and real discussion about ensuring investment in our water infrastructure,” he added.

Friday’s announcement by Brown came as he sent to a letter to President Donald Trump with a list of 10 “high-priority infrastructure projects” that need “expedited environmental review.” Some of the projects were included in an earlier list of California projects for a possible federal public works plan that Trump has promised. In the case of spillway repairs, Brown wrote, “We are asking the administration to exempt this project from any National Environmental Policy Act review.”

California had more than $11.8 billion in unsold natural resources bonds as of Dec. 31, including $7.4 billion from Proposition 1. Brown said the state also is spending $634 million from earlier borrowing measures on flood control over the next two years.

State Resources Secretary John Laird also sent letters to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bureau of Reclamation, calling on them to increase inspections and review of all federally owned dams as well as updating decades-old operating manuals for reservoirs.

“Over the next two years, California will spend over $1 billion on flood control projects,” Laird wrote. “It is our hope that the federal government can help us with its appropriate share.”

Brown, meanwhile, included Laird’s letter in brief, separate correspondence to the agency secretaries overseeing those departments.

“This is both an urgent need and a real opportunity!” Brown hand-wrote at the bottom of the letter to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.

This video shows the progress crews have made to reinforce the emergency spillway. California Department of Water Resources

A 1990s documentary uses archival footage to detail the construction of the Oroville Dam, an earthfill embankment dam on the Feather River east of the city of Oroville, California, in the United States that was built during the period 1961 to 1968. At 770 feet, it is the tallest dam in the United States and serves mainly for water supply, hydroelectricity generation and flood control. The dam's main and emergency spillways were significantly damaged in February 2017. This prompted the evacuation of more than 180,000 people living downstream along the Feather River. Archive DWR footage via WDTVLIVE42

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago