FEATURES

Creaky, leaky dams among biggest 

risks to California: Audit

By NICK CAHILL, Contributing Writer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (MNS) – Despite a near disaster in 2017 at the nation’s tallest dam, operators and regulators of California’s high-riskdams have been slow to react and plan for catastrophic failures, according to a state audit released Thursday.

Of the 650 dams the state believes could be deadly in the event of failure, just 22 have state-approved emergency plans in place. Subpar planning and lack of funding for repairs place people living beneath many of California’s 1,200 dams at high risk, says State Auditor Elaine Howle.

 “The potentially catastrophic consequences of a dam failure, the significant number of dams in less than satisfactory condition, and the remaining work necessary to ensure that emergency planning is complete and approved lead us to conclude that water infrastructure remains a high-rise issue,” the audit states.

The state narrowly averted disaster in 2017 when the spillway at Oroville Dam cracked during a major winter storm and sent nearly 200,000 Northern Californians fleeing. The near-catastrophe at the 770-foot dam not only prompted evacuations and more than $1 billion in repairs, it revealed the decrepit condition of the state’s outdated water infrastructure.

Responding to public outrage, lawmakers and then-Governor Jerry Brown passed a series of laws requiring regulators to catalog the condition of dams and increase inspections, while some operators were required to submit inundation maps and emergency plans. Howle also followed up with a 2018 report noting the age and worrisome condition of the dams.

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