Why is the state withholding asbestos records at Oroville Dam?

6.7.2017– By Ryan Sabalow 

In the latest skirmish over transparency at the troubled Oroville Dam, a Northern California activist group has sued state officials alleging they’re illegally withholding information about potentially toxic asbestos.

AquAlliance, a Chico-based advocacy group focused on Sacramento Valley water issues, filed a lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court on Tuesday alleging the Department of Water Resources broke state records laws when it denied the group’s request for emails containing information about the asbestos at the dam. The state did release nine documents, the group said, but not the relevant emails.

The suit claims the DWR told the group the records didn’t exist or were protected from disclosure by attorney-client privilege. The group’s executive director, Barbara Vlamis, said she has no idea whether there is anything in the records that could show the state is putting the public at risk, but she doesn’t like the idea of the state hiding information.

“There may be nothing damning at all in the material,” she said. “Well, then, let’s see it.”

An Oroville Dam spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Asbestos occurs naturally in certain types of rock around Northern California, but DWR officials have insisted since crews began working on the troubled dam’s badly damaged spillways this winter that there’s no risk to the public. The agency says it’s also taking steps to keep asbestos dust out of the lungs of those working on the dam.

The suit is the latest in a tug of war between the state and members of the public over Oroville Dam records.

The state has denied the Sacramento Bee’s requests for certain technical documents and dam safety records. The agency also hasn’t yet fulfilled a request the paper made in February seeking emails from top DWR officials during the spillway crisis that triggered the evacuation of 188,000 people.

Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalowrsabalow@sacbee.com

Lawsuit Filed Against DWR over Oroville Dam Records

Chico, CA. – AquAlliance filed a lawsuit in state court on June 6, 2017 against the California Department of Water Resources (“DWR”) over its failure to release records related to the Oroville Dam main and emergency spillways crisis that started in February 2017.

On April 19, 2017 AquAlliance filed a Public Records Act (“PRA”) request to DWR to release records that explicitly pertained to the asbestos. The asbestos was uncovered by the break in the main spillway and then further eroded by the massive water released at the main spillway that was necessary due to the near failure of the emergency spillway. AquAlliance has been concerned about the extent of the asbestos material and how it did or will affect workers, Oroville residents, and aquatic species. In response to the request, DWR released nine documents, none of which included any e-mail communication. When questioned further, DWR claimed that there are no more responsive records and that all responsive e-mails are protected under attorney-client privilege.

AquAlliance disagrees and is asking the court to enforce the PRA. “DWR’s culture is bound by secrecy to protect its image and its very slanted focus, which is to maximize water exports to its contractors,” expressed Barbara Vlamis, AquAlliance’s Executive Director. “AquAlliance strongly believes that the public’s right to know is essential in a democracy and legally enforceable1, something we are happy to take on,” she continued.

Additional Contacts: Paul Nicholas Boylan, Esq. (530) 400-1653.

Complaint: Click link to view the Complaint filed in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Sacramento — AQ3 – PWM_060617.

1 “The public’s right to access to information concerning the conduct of the people’s business is a fundamental and necessary right of every person in California.”(Government Code § 6250.)

Brown’s twin tunnels will hurt the delta

May 15, 2017 — Gov. Jerry Brown is never more convincing than when he is blasting President Donald Trump for his failure to make policy decisions based on the best science available.

It’s too bad the governor doesn’t see the hypocrisy of his approach to the delta tunnels project, which has clearly stated coequal goals of ecosystem restoration and water supply reliability.

Brown told the Sacramento Bee in December that “ the best scientific thinking says California needs the project.”

It is a Trumpian fallacy.

Building the tunnels will produce a more reliable source of water for the bottom half of California, but federal scientists have been saying for years that the massive $17 billion project will also only make things worse for the fragile delta, the largest estuary west of the Mississippi that is responsible for much of the state’s drinking water.

A recently released draft analysis of Brown’s delta tunnels project — this one by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service — adds another scientific voice saying the project not only won’t help the salmon and delta smelt populations, it also will likely do additional damage.

Specifically, the draft report says, “ using the best science available, the Fish Agencies have provided evidence that some aspects of the proposed action will have significant adverse effects on listed species and critical habitat.”

Among other issues, it is expected that delta smelt habitat would be negatively impacted for 10 years during construction and that the project would result in killing an additional 7 percent of the Chinook salmon winter run, doing further harm to a valued endangered species. The scientists also say the proposed habitat restoration isn’t enough to offset environmental damage.

The report is undergoing review and is subject to change, but the conclusions about the detrimental impact on salmon runs and the delta smelt are similar to previous scientific reviews.

In 2016, the Delta Independent Science Board found gaping holes in the tunnel project. The board reviewed the project’s draft environmental impact review and found it contained no analysis of how the project would affect the existing delta levee system, the impacts of climate change or alternatives to building the tunnels.

In 2012, the prestigious National Academy of Sciences took a comprehensive look at the twin-tunnel plan and found it riddled with holes and inconsistencies, including the failure to examine the potential to reduce demand for delta water through conservation.

The science on the delta is clear. The only way to restore the delta’s health is to get more water flowing through it, not less. And if you believe Southern California water districts are fighting for a $17 billion system that will give them not a drop more water, you win a free tour of the Owens Valley.

Copyright © 2017 Chico Enterprise-Record.

New Questions Over California Water Project

AP NewsBreak
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Associated Press
August 12, 2016, 3:02 am ET

SAN FRANCISCO — Critics and a state lawmaker say they want more explanations on who’s paying for a proposed $16 billion water project backed by Gov. Jerry Brown, after a leading California water district said Brown’s administration was offering government funding to finish the planning for the two giant water tunnels.

Critics said the government funding described by the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District on Thursday could run counter to longstanding state assurances that various local water districts, not California itself, would pay for Brown’s vision of digging twin 35-mile-long tunnels to carry water from the Sacramento River south, mainly for Central and Southern California. The $248 million in preliminary spending for the tunnels, which have yet to win regulatory approval, already is the topic of an ongoing federal audit. On Wednesday, state lawmakers ordered a state audit of the tunnels-spending as well.

On Thursday, state spokeswoman Nancy Vogel said that despite the account of the Los Angeles-based Metropolitan Water District, no money from the state’s general fund would be used finishing the current planning phase of the twin tunnels. However, opponents of the tunnels and a taxpayer group were critical Thursday, and Assemblywoman Susan Eggman, one of the state lawmakers behind this week’s audit order, asked the state Thursday for clarification.

“It’s a shell game,” said David Wolfe, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association’s legislative director. “I think it comes back to the audit (request) yesterday: There are way more questions here than there are answers.”

The tunnels project is endorsed by Brown and by some politically influential water districts and water customers in Central and Southern California. Supporters say the tunnels would benefit the environment and offer Californians a more secure water supply. Opponents say they fear the state will use the tunnels to divert too much water from the Sacramento River and San Francisco Bay, harming Northern California and further endangering native species there.

Metropolitan and other water districts slated to get water from the tunnels have yet to commit to paying for them, out of uncertainty whether the massive spending would really bring them enough water to make the cost worthwhile. The same water districts also announced this year they would not pay to complete the current preliminary work on the tunnels unless the project first won regulatory approval.

On Thursday, a monthly report published by the LA-based water district on the tunnels project said, “the state has indicated that any additional funding needs to complete the planning phase will be provided by state or federal sources.”

After all that local water districts had spent on the project, including $63 million from his water district, “This is to be expected” that the state would use government money to close out planning, said Bob Muir, spokesman for the LA-based water district. He referred further questions to Vogel, the state spokeswoman.

Vogel said the state intended to pull money to finish the tunnels planning from user fees for an existing, half-century-old water network, the State Water Project.

Tunnel opponents, however, point to a measure state lawmakers passed in 2009 that they say bars the state from spending money on the tunnels until the water agencies that would benefit commit to paying for them.

“Project contractors pledged to pay for this project and they’ve used financial gimmicks to get around this obligation,” said Patricia Schifferle, an environmental consultant and longtime opponent of the proposed tunnels. “It raises questions as to where this money was suddenly found.”


Don Thompson contributed from Sacramento, Calif.



Fixing Oroville Dam will cost hundreds of millions. Who should pay the bill?

By Jim Miller, The Sacramento Bee, 4.25.17

Oroville Spillway Incident Overview

From “Oroville Spillway Incident” – California Department of Water Resources website:
On February 7, erosion was noticed on the flood control spillway located adjacent to the Lake Oroville Dam. Department of Water Resources temporarily stopped outflow from the spillway to investigate the erosion. After testing and evaluation, outflow resumed from the flood control spillway to account for rising reservoir levels. Crews also began preparing for use of the emergency spillway…   View full DWR incident information.

California Governor Jerry Brown makes secret stop in Oroville

The governor was at the Department of Water Resources Wednesday (Feb. 22) in Oroville getting a briefing on the spillway repairs.

Action News Now reporter Sara Stinson was at the Department of Water Resources Wednesday afternoon where she saw Governor Brown. When she inquired about the governor’s presence, she was told “he was not there,” and was immediately escorted out of the tent briefing room and was informed only of spillway repairs.

This is what we do know, the DWR continues to release 60,000 cubic feet per second from the spillway.

Lake levels rose 853 feet, 48 feet below the maximum level of the reservoir. PG&E crews were able to fly steel poles by helicopter to replace power poles that were destroyed by the water outflow of the dam on Feb. 10.

Crews are also disassembling and removing two transmission towers, then will construct a permanent transmission line.

This has put a temporary flight restriction on all other helicopters working on the repairs.

But, 24-hours-a-day, regardless of weather conditions, 40 truckloads an hour have been delivering gravel, rocks and cement to continue construction.

There is still no word on the amount of damage caused to the emergency spillway.

“As long as we have water flowing down through that area we can’t get our experts in there to see how much that damage is so they can start formulating the plans to rebuilt or fix that spillway,” said Chris Orrock, DWR spokesperson.

The goal is to stop outflow to zero cfs on to the emergency spillway by this weekend to assess the damage.

DWR officials say they are looking at weather conditions and lake levels before they make the decision to stop all out flows.

The Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea has just confirmed Governor Jerry Brown was there visiting the Oroville Dam construction.

Click here to view story online.


Butte County Files Oroville Dam Emergency Petition

Emergency Petition to Correct Safety Deficiencies
and Establish a Public Safety Program

2.15.17: Butte County has filed an emergency petition requesting that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) immediately order the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to establish a Public Safety Program that addresses the public safety lapses identified in filings with the Commission over the last 20 years, including providing for the necessary public safety and public services personnel, specifically trained in public safety and evacuation procedures. “Currently Butte County – a financially strapped county – bears the burden of providing services to the Project, at no cost to DWR, the contracting water districts, or the State of California. This must be remedied.”, the petition states.
Click here to view Emergency Petition.




Flash Flood Warning Feb. 12, 2017

Flash Flood Warning
National Weather Service Sacramento CA
435 PM PST SUN FEB 12 2017 

The National Weather Service in Sacramento has issued a
* Flash Flood Warning for…  A Dam Failure in…  South central Butte County in northern California…
* Until 415 PM PST Monday

* At 419 PM PST,  Dam operators reported A hazardous situation is  developing with the Oroville Dam auxiliary spillway. Operation of  the auxiliary spillway has lead to severe erosion that could lead  to a failure of the structure. Failure of the auxiliary spillway  structure will result in an uncontrolled release of flood waters  from Lake Oroville.

In response to this developing situation, DWR is increasing water  releases to 100,000 cubic feet per second.

Immediate evacuation from the low levels of Oroville areas downstream is ordered. From Oroville to Gridley…low level areas around the Feather River will experience rapid river rises.

This is not a Drill. This is not a Drill. Repeat this is not a  drill. 

* Locations impacted include…  Oroville, Palermo, Gridley, Thermalito, South Oroville, Oroville  Dam, Oroville East and Wyandotte.

On 2/9/2017 10:50 PM, AquAlliance wrote:


Emergency News

Any of you who are in Oroville or south or west of it prepare for an emergency and please help neighbors who have limited resources. Water coming into Oroville Reservoir is so massive and the spillway so damaged that it will be forced out the so-called emergency spillway tonight, which has never been tried before (down a hillside of trees, no cement).  Hours ago the inflow was approximately 185,000 cfs, and outflows 41,602 cfs. Even with the storm winding down, the warm temperatures will melt significant snow. Below are phone numbers and web sites of county offices of emergency services.

Butte County Office of Emergency Services – 538-7373 and http://www.buttecounty.net/oem/EmergencyEvents.aspx

Sutter County Office of Emergency Services – 822-4575 and https://www.co.sutter.ca.us/doc/government/depts/cs/es/cs_es_home

Yuba County Office of Emergency Services – 749-7520 and http://www.co.yuba.ca.us/departments/oes/

Photo illustrates the crater in the spillway:


Vernal Pools in Changing Landscapes

18_Vernal_Pools_in_Changing_Landscapes_coverVernal Pools in Changing Landscapes is the newest book, Number 18, from Studies from the Herbarium, California State University, Chico.

Edited by
Robert A. Schlising & Erin E. Gottschalk Fisher
California State University, Chico
C. Matt Guilliams
Santa Barbara Botanic Garden

This book is a collection of articles derived from talks presented at the vernal pool landscapes conference, “Vernal Pools in Changing Landscapes: From Shasta to Baja,” convened by AquAlliance, in Chico, CA, April 14, 2014.

Information about this book and how to order is on the Friends of the Chico State Herbarium website: www.friendsofthechicostateherbarium.com/sfthm