CSPA has joined a broad-based ad hoc coalition of entities in an August 8, 2017 letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) that requests a delay in the issuance of a new hydropower license for the Oroville Facilities Project. The signers of the letter include two elected state officials, two counties, two chambers of commerce, six towns and cities, several business groups, and six other fishing, environmental and recreational groups, plus a number of individuals. The signers of the letter are entities that were affected by the February 2017 Oroville Dam spillway incident and/or who were involved in the Oroville Dam relicensing proceeding.
In February, 2017, most of the main spillway at Oroville Dam failed, sending water cascading onto rock and dirt to the side of the spillway. A series of events then led DWR to use the dam’s “emergency spillway,” a concrete lip on the reservoir that directs spilling water onto an unlined dirt and rock hillside. Erosion on the hillside downstream of the emergency spillway threatened to undermine the concrete lip and send the top thirty feet of the full reservoir down the face of the dam all at once. Potentially, this could have flooded the City of Oroville below and cities and land downstream. In the face of this danger, approximately 188,000 people in Oroville and downstream communities in Butte County, Yuba County and Sutter County were evacuated. Reconstruction at the Oroville Facilities is now underway, but it will take at least through 2018 to complete.
The letter asks FERC to delay issuing a new license until stakeholders and the dam’s operator – the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) – can better understand the causes of the Oroville Dam spillway incident. FERC has tasked a Board of Consultants and Forensic Team with determining the cause of the spillway incident and informing the reconstruction effort. The letter’s authors state that analysis of the spillway incident may change the underlying assumptions of the pending license, and that it would not be prudent at all for FERC to issue a renewed license without the benefit of understanding the incident.