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California's troubled Oroville Dam wasn't on Gov. Brown's infrastructure 'wish list'

Oroville Dam a ticking time bomb for years
Oroville Dam a ticking time bomb for years

A list of $100 billion of "key" infrastructure projects that California Gov. Jerry Brown's office targeted this month for investment statewide includes raising Folsom Dam to improve flood protection but doesn't specifically mention Oroville Dam.

The priority list prepared by California follows calls by President Donald Trump for $1 trillion in infrastructure projects nationwide. The list was prepared at the request of the National Governor's Association.

"These investments will build and improve: roads; levees; bridges; ports; train and public transit systems; water storage and recycling projects; as well as energy, military, veterans and emergency operations facilities and services," said the letter to Scott Pattison, the executive director and CEO of the NGA. It was signed by Nancy McFadden, Brown's executive secretary.

Most of the projects on the three-page wish list involve transportation-related projects, such as highways, bridges rail or transit.

Oroville Dam, California's second-largest reservoir, was crippled last week when its primary emergency spillway suffered significant erosion and later the emergency spillway too experienced critical damage. A mandatory evacuation order was ordered Sunday from authorities after fears the 48-year-old dam's emergency spillway could suffer critical failure and lead to the release of large, uncontrolled amounts of water downstream.

The state said Saturday that repairs to the primary spillway at Oroville Dam — the nation's tallest earthen dam — could run as much as $200 million but that was before critical damage to the emergency spillway. Repairs to both spillways are likely to run much higher than the rough estimate provided by the California Department of Water Resources.

Oroville Dam is located about 70 miles north of Sacramento. One project the state has identified as a priority is to "raise Folsom Dam to improve flood protection for [the] Sacramento region and improve dam safety," according to the list sent to NGA.

Similar to Oroville, the January and February storms dumped huge amounts of water into Folsom Dam.

Gaping hole in America’s tallest dam keeps getting bigger
Gaping hole in America’s tallest dam keeps getting bigger

Back in 1986, Folsom Dam exceeded its normal flood control storage capacity and the result was several levees in the area collapsed. Also, in January 2016 engineers were forced to stabilize a leak considered in a temporary dam spillway site at Folsom.

Elsewhere, the California infrastructure list also includes a project to reduce the flooding risk to the city of Marysville and a levee project. There also are other flood control projects listed specifically for the Sacramento region too and a surface water project proposed to enlarge the San Luis Reservoir as well as "improve resiliency of [the] existing dam."

The governor's high-speed rail project also made the list. Construction is currently underway in the Central Valley on the project although there have been some efforts in Congress to delay federal funding. Once completed, the high-speed rail would run from the Los Angeles area in the south to the San Francisco Bay area in the north.

The letter also proposes expansion the Port of Long Beach, the nation's second-largest sea container port after Los Angeles. There's also money requested to build out California's earthquake early warning system to alert the public and businesses before major quakes.

"In the short-term, these projects will benefit businesses up and down the state and put thousands to work — many in communities with the highest rates of unemployment," said the letter to the NGA CEO.

Even so, Gov. Jerry Brown said Monday after meeting with emergency response officials about the Oroville Dam crisis that the state already has spent money on flood control-related projects but also is aware more is needed.

"We have been investing substantial sums," he said. "Probably $5 billion on various forms of flood control in the last 10 years. About $400 million in the last two years. There's a lot to be done."

Brown also said he will push for California to get its share of the $1 trillion in money Trump wants to spend nationally on infrastructure projects.

"I fully embrace and will strive to make sure that California gets 12 percent," the governor said, pointing out that's roughly California's share of the U.S. population. "We have certainly $120 billion that we can spend it on wisely."

Meantime, the governor's office insisted Monday the list was "an initial list of projects. By no means does it represent all of the state's priorities."

Also, a spokesman for the governor emphasized that even though the high-speed rail project was listed before any water or flood-related projects that the list's order was never intended to be a ranking by priority but rather by category.

Thousands evacuated near faulty Oroville Dam
Thousands evacuated near faulty Oroville Dam