- The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has agreed to pay only $333 million toward repairs for the February 2017 dam spillway breach in Oroville, California. This is $306 million less than the state requested, according to California Rep. Doug LaMalfa.
- LaMalfa said FEMA reimbursed the state for eligible repairs but will not pay for “disasters caused by negligence or maintenance failures.” An independent safety review in September 2017 found that design and construction errors, along with lack of state oversight, caused the Oroville dam's spillway scare. In an internal DWR memo, state engineers also expressed concern about the dam’s design, construction and age and questioned the ability of seven other similar California dams to “safely pass a flood event.” FEMA typically pays 75% of eligible disaster costs.
- DWR officials said that they would work with FEMA to address the unpaid portion of the state’s Oroville repair bill. “Our reconstruction work was necessary to safely operate the main spillway and ensure functionality of the emergency spillway,” said Joel Ledesma, DWR's deputy director of the State Water Project, in a statement. "DWR plans to appeal FEMA’s determination as we believe all costs should be eligible for federal reimbursement.”
Concerns around a potential spillway failure necessitated the evacuation of 188,000 residents living downstream from the dam. The state awarded Kiewit Infrastructure West $630 million of repair work at Oroville, but total costs could exceed $1 billion. Much of the construction work, according to LaMalfa, has been carried out with the goal of making the spillway work properly and cannot be funded under an emergency declaration.
The federal government did, however, offer California some relief in another area related to the dam incident. The USDOT in February announced that it would provide, through the Federal Highway Administration, $2.8 million in grants to repair roads in three counties that were damaged by equipment brought in during emergency repairs.
Last month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released an update to the National Inventory of Dams. The average age of the country’s 91,468 dams is 57 years, and, according to the Association of State Dam Safety Officials, it would take $64 billion to make all the necessary upgrades and repairs to state and federal dams. It would cost $22 billion to fix the most critical dams, according to the association.