- Associated Press - Thursday, April 6, 2017

OROVILLE, Calif. (AP) - Gov. Jerry Brown waived some permitting and review requirements Thursday for Oroville Dam as California rushes to repair a main spillway that partially washed away under heavy winter runoff.

Brown signed an executive order directing state agencies to make repairs at the dam, the nation’s tallest, a priority. The order waives some of the environmental reviews and other requirements that could slow the push to have the concrete spillway operational by November, when the next rainy season starts.

Huge sections of both the main and emergency spillways failed in February as rain and melted snow poured into the reservoir behind the dam.

As water spilled over the dam’s emergency spillway Feb. 12, ripping away part of the hillside, authorities ordered the evacuation of 188,000 people downstream. Residents were allowed to return home later that week. Authorities said the dam itself suffered no damage.

Even with one storm hitting Thursday and another on the way, state and local authorities said the dam’s managers have released enough water from the dam to avoid trouble for now.

“We are in a much, much better position today than we were Feb. 12,” Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea told reporters at a news conference near the dam.

William Croyle, acting director at the Department of Water Resources, which manages the dam, said the state expects to finish laying new concrete, or bolting down stretches of existing concrete, on the key, upper stretch of the main spillway by the Nov. 1 target date.

State water officials say designs for the redone main spillway are about 60 percent complete. Croyle declined to release an estimated price for the rush repairs, which state officials said earlier would cost in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Contracts should be awarded on April 17, water officials said.

Oroville reservoir is the state’s second-largest, and anchors the system of aqueducts, canals and pumps that moves water from Northern California to more arid Central and Southern California.

State water officials said Thursday that inspections have found some surviving sections of the main spillway to have far thicker concrete than authorities expected, which Croyle called welcome news.

An initial report by a federally created board of experts last month, first reported by The Associated Press, gave a much more dire description of the crippled main spillway and of the urgency of repairs than state officials previously had. The report described the spillway and earth around it as saturated with water and made up of as little as 12 inches (304.8 millimeters) of concrete.

Croyle’s agency has since asked federal authorities to withhold from the public future reports by the expert panel. The state is citing a law that classifies major dams as critical infrastructure subject to possible terror attack, and that allows certain information about the dams to be withheld.

“That first one shouldn’t have been made public,” Croyle told reporters.

Instead, he said, state water officials would share the experts’ reports with Honea, the sheriff.

A separate team of experts charged with finding out the causes of February’s crisis at the dam should make its first site visit next week, state water officials said.


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