April 6, 2017
State officials sketched a two-year recovery plan Thursday for the battered Oroville Dam spillway, revealing a blueprint that’s far from complete, still in need of a price tag and certain to leave the structure partially damaged as the next rainy season approaches.
The plan unveiled by the Department of Water Resources will proceed in phases and won’t be finished until 2018. Notably, the giant ravine that’s been carved out of a nearby hillside, the result of water boiling out of the fractured spillway in recent weeks, could be used again next winter to handle excessive water releases.
Nonetheless, Acting DWR Director Bill Croyle said the 3,000-foot-long chute will be functional next winter.
The repair plan was released nearly two months to the day after a giant crater erupted in the dam’s main spillway, eventually triggering a crisis that forced the temporary evacuation of 188,000 residents.
Croyle acknowledged the plan is a work in progress.
“We have a little less than a 60 percent design,” he told reporters. Nonetheless, the project is being circulated among four contracting firms, and DWR expects to execute a contract by April 17. The firms weren’t identified.
“We’re moving as fast as we can. We need this (contract) in a matter of hours or days, not weeks or months,” Croyle said.
Croyle said he was unable to provide a cost estimate beyond his original projection nearly two months ago that it would take up to $200 million to repair the structure. President Donald Trump made a disaster declaration over the weekend that’s expected to free up approximately $274 million in federal funds for Oroville repairs, although much of that money is being spent on debris removal and other functions not directly tied to repairing the spillway.
Gov. Jerry Brown moved to expedite the project Thursday, signing an executive order that waives state environmental laws and other red tape. Nonetheless, Croyle said DWR will be as sensitive as it can to environmental issues as work progresses.
The crater that erupted Feb. 7 essentially split the concrete spillway in two. Water gushing down the spillway, misdirected by the giant chasm, carved an enormous ravine in a nearby hillside.
Croyle said DWR plans to leave the ravine in place this year. It could serve as a kind of auxiliary outlet in case the reservoir is rising too high and the concrete structure, despite its repairs, can’t handle excessive water flows.
The lower spillway itself will be “demolished and replaced” over the summer, said DWR chief engineer Jeanne Kuttel. “It will be stronger than it was before,” she said. The state plans to use quick drying “roller compacted concrete” on the lower portion of the structure, she said.
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