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Auditor: Most major California dams lack emergency plans

Damaged Dam
Posted at 10:40 AM, Jan 31, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-31 13:40:30-05

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Three years after the Oroville Dam spillway broke apart driving hundreds of thousands of people from their homes over fears of catastrophic flooding, only 22 of 650 major dams in the state have finalized emergency plans, according to a report by the California State Auditor.

State Auditor Elaine Howle said in her report issued Thursday that the vast majority of California’s major dams aren’t adequately prepared for an emergency, the Sacramento Bee reported.

“Water infrastructure remains a high-risk issue,” she wrote.

The Legislature required the plans after the crisis at Oroville’s flood-control spillway prompted the evacuation of 180,000 downstream residents in February 2017.

The emergency plans are supposed to “specify actions to minimize loss of life and property damage” when dam emergencies occur, according to the report. The law requires emergency plans for the 650 dams regulated by the state — out of more than 1,200 — that have been designated as “high hazard” or “extremely high hazard.”

According to the auditor’s report, hundreds of dam operators have submitted emergency plans, but state officials have kicked the proposals back to them for changes or are still reviewing them.

“Existing efforts by Emergency Services and Water Resources are not sufficient to address the lack of approved plans,” the audit says. It has taken an average of 500 days to process the plans that have made it through the pipeline.

The report doesn’t identify which of the 22 dams have had their plans approved.

The Department of Water Resources said in a statement it is “dedicating additional staff to its dam safety program” and has ordered 41 troubled dams to restrict the amount of water their reservoirs can store. In its written response, the Office of Emergency Services said it is the dam owners who “are responsible for most of the delay in finalizing emergency plans.”

The auditor’s report says 250 dam operators haven’t even submitted plans.