The California Department of Water Resources’ (DWR) cost estimates for the Oroville Dam crisis and repair have spiked to $870 million, after an independent forensic report blamed the state for misleading the public about its knowledge of dangerous conditions.
DWR spokesman Erin Mellon raised the state’s estimate from $500 million in July, to $660 million in October, and now to $870 million. DWR blames the higher costs on the removal of downstream debris, due to the overflow and near-collapse of the emergency spillway of the 770-foot earthen dam.
The spiking costs come just a month after the Department of General Services denied all 347 liability claims submitted against the State of California for the Oroville Dam crisis and recovery, because the $1.2 billion in filed claims were deemed “more complex than the standard administrative claims,” missed the state deadline of Aug. 11 deadline, or failed to supply enough documentation.
The U.S. government, as part of President Donald Trump’s approval of California’s Feb. 7 Declaration of Emergency at Oroville Dam, issued an executive order paving the way for the implementation of a Federal Response Plan that would normally be expected to pay 75 percent of the losses at the state-owned dam and downstream communities.
But that was before California was hammered for alleged gross mismanagement and fraudulent concealment following the Jan. 15 release of the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission report, “Independent Forensic Team Report Oroville Spillway Incident.” Referring to the state’s safety culture as “immature,” the summary stated:
The Oroville Dam spillway incident was caused by a long-term systemic failure of the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), regulatory, and general industry practices to recognize and address the inherent spillway design and construction weaknesses, poor bedrock quality and deteriorated service spillway chute conditions.
Just three days later, the City of Oroville sued the state for a range of costs between $500 million to $1 billion. According to the San Jose Mercury News, Carolyn Frank, a partner with Huber of Cota Cole and Huber, LLP, representing the city, stated, “You’re looking at major damages that are going to come out of your pocket as a taxpayer.”
It is expected that the independent forensic report will also serve as prima facia evidence for civil liability and fraud claims against the State of California for allegedly using global warming theories regarding hundred-year droughts to justify re-programming spending for water infrastructure maintenance on other political priorities, such as high-speed-rail.
Just months before California received its heaviest rainfall since the 1800s, Governor Jerry Brown issued Executive Order B-37-16, directing five state agencies to prioritize climate change spending under SB X7‐7, passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature in 2009 .
With the independent forensic report serving as a basis to blame the State of California for failing to fund maintenance infrastructure at Oroville Dam adequately, and allegedly concealing known risks to public safety, the Trump administration would potentially have justification for cutting off its funding of what could easily amount to $5 billion in costs to the State of California.