LaMalfa Urges President Trump to Help Facilitate Oroville Dam Spillway Repair
Mar 14, 2017
(Washington, DC) – Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale) issued the following statement after sending a letter, along with many of his colleagues in the California congressional delegation, urging President Trump to take immediate action to facilitate the work required to repair the two Oroville Dam spillways that were damaged in the February 2017 storm events. The damage forced the mandatory evacuation of nearly 200,000 residents, and President Trump responded by declaring a Major Emergency and authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to assist local and state officials and provide aid to evacuees. The letter LaMalfa sent today requests that the President use his authority to streamline and waive review of the repairs under several federal environmental laws which would otherwise force significant delays in repair to the spillways.
LaMalfa said: “The President has our gratitude for his quick response in declaring the Oroville Dam situation a Major Emergency last month and directing federal resources to assist evacuees. We’re asking President Trump to once again act swiftly to speed the repair of Oroville Dam’s two damaged spillways by directing federal agencies to waive or accelerate restrictive environmental reviews which will otherwise cause major delays. Out of touch federal agencies have already attempted to twist environmental laws to demand, for example, that spillway shutdowns for recovery work be conducted only at night, which would cause drastic delays and endanger workers. Lake Oroville is a key piece of our state’s water supply and flood control infrastructure that we need operational as soon as possible, and California simply can’t afford to allow excessive regulation to delay repair of an existing structure.”
The text of the letter is as follows:
The Honorable Donald J. Trump
President of the United States
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500
We are writing to request that you take immediate action to facilitate work required to address an emergency situation impacting Oroville Dam, one of the most important components of California’s water supply infrastructure. As you are aware, as a result of unprecedented precipitation and runoff in the Feather River watershed, the emergency spillway at the Oroville Dam was used on February 11, 2017, for the first time since the Dam's construction in 1968. An uncontrolled spill occurred directly onto the earthen hillside below the crest of the emergency spillway, resulting in significant erosion that threatened to undermine and collapse the spillway structure itself. Had this failure occurred, a 30-foot wall of water would have inundated the Feather River below the Dam, flooding communities downstream. Fearing this exact scenario, on February 12, 2017, emergency response officials ordered the mandatory evacuation of more than 180,000 people from low-lying areas along the Feather River in Butte, Yuba and Sutter Counties. Your emergency declaration in response to this situation ensured that federal resources were available to aid in the evacuation and shelter those forced to flee their homes, and you have our sincere gratitude and appreciation for this swift response.
As of February 12, California suspended the application of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) in order to expedite emergency response work and recovery at the Dam. Ensuring that the dam is operational and safe by next winter is essential to protecting residents and the state’s drinking water supply in the coming year.
Emergency work has been ongoing at the Dam and while the mandatory evacuation order was rescinded, residents are still under an evacuation warning. Families were able to return to their homes and businesses were reopened. However, the emergency is not over. The threat looms with every pending storm and the eventual runoff of record levels of snow in the watershed above the Dam. Those who were evacuated have been told to remain prepared for another evacuation.
Despite the ongoing emergency, on February 24, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), an agency within the Department of Commerce, sent to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission a letter recommending emergency consultation under the Endangered Species Act, as well as numerous recommended restrictions on repair work already underway. Those restrictions would threaten and impede efforts to repair the Oroville Dam emergency spillway and related infrastructure. For example, NMFS urged that spillway closures to conduct inspections and repairs be conducted only at night, a proposal which would delay repairs immeasurably and place workers at risk, and recommended that debris removal work necessary to restore hydroelectric generation be done with an emphasis on fishery health, not alacrity.
This letter is a striking display of how the Endangered Species Act and its implementation by unelected bureaucrats places listed species ahead of human life, property, businesses, schools, and churches, which remain at significant risk of catastrophic loss. Should NMFS be allowed to dictate the repair process, critical work needed to protect hundreds of thousands of people will be delayed significantly, perhaps for years, and experience major cost increases. Furthermore, such delays would negatively impact operations of the largest state-owned reservoir in California, which supplies 20 million people with drinking water.
It is our hope that you will continue your work to aid the region by exempting from the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act for all repair work at the Dam, the spillways, and other facilities damaged during the February 2017 storm events, for the duration of this work. In this emergency situation, these exemptions are absolutely vital to prevent the recurrence of the disaster and to reduce the potential harm to the populations of those counties affected by the disaster. We thank you for your continued personal attention to this situation.
Congressman Doug LaMalfa is a lifelong farmer representing California’s First Congressional District, including Butte, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Nevada, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou and Tehama Counties.