Documents shed light on officials' actions during dam crisis

Posted April 20, 2017

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California water officials say they have awarded a contract to fix Oroville Dam's two damaged spillways to a Nebraska construction company.

Raging floodwaters from one of the wettest winters on record rip a huge hole in the dam's main concrete spillway.

Then, a backup spillway began breaking apart, and almost 200,000 people were suddenly ordered to evacuate. If water begins flowing over the emergency spillway — essentially an unpaved hillside — operators can not control it, and it will wash large amounts of soil and debris into the river below the dam. "They turned off the flow and were inspecting it and testing it", said Ron Stork, senior policy adviser with Friends of the River, an environmental group. "And all of the time the reservoir was filling".

The complete recovery or replacement of the spillways will be done in multiple phases “due to the enormity of the project and the time limitations of the construction season, ” DWR says. "And you know, they nearly lost control". For days, managers assured the public there was no imminent danger as they slowed releases of water to assess the damage. "This happened. Stuff happens", he said last month.

"It was not whether people would die, but how many would die", Honea told AP.

Officials have reopened the damaged spillway at Oroville Dam as more rain moved across Northern California. At 700 feet high, it is the tallest dam in the U.S., and serves the water supply and hydroelectricity for the San Joaquin Valley, which provides 12 percent of American's agriculture.

The state estimates the second spillway could fail within 60 minutes.

Meanwhile, the environmental groups Wednesday renewed their request with federal regulators that the earthen, backup spillway be armored with concrete. The department said Saturday it estimated fix costs at $220 million but corrected that figure on Monday after finding an error.

Department of Water Resource officials said during the crisis they were primarily anxious the hole in the main spillway would grow larger and take out power-line towers at the dam's hydroelectric plant.

A federally ordered investigation is underway.

Meanwhile, a Nebraska-based company, Kiewit Infrastructure West, just won a roughly $275 million contract to fix the spillway, according to Sacramento's Capitol Public Radio.

Kiewit Infrastructure West Co. submitted the low bid of just under $276 million.