Dan Bacher: Cost Estimates to Repair Oroville Dam Spillways Mushroom to $1.1 Billion

Sept. 7, 2018 – In a conference call with reporters and a press release issued on September 5, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) revealed that its cost estimate to construct the main and emergency spillways at Oroville Dan has ballooned from $200 million in the early days of the spillway crisis to $1.1 billion.

Critics of DWR’s handling of the spillway crisis, a fiasco that resulted in the evacuation of nearly 200,000 residents of Butte, Yuba and Sutter counties on one hour’s notice, pointed out that a similar dramatic increase in costs is also likely to take occur if Governor Jerry Brown’s Delta Tunnels project is ever constructed.

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A DWR spokesman said that the cost estimates may increase even further as construction proceeds in 2019.

“The current estimate for emergency response and reconstruction of the main and emergency spillways is $1.1 billion,” said Erin Mellon, Assistant Director of Public Affairs at Department of Water Resources. “Cost estimates are based on actual and projected work and may be adjusted further as work continues through completion of the project in 2019.”

Mellon said the project is currently on track  to meet the November 1, 2018 public safety construction milestone to place all concrete on the main spillway.

She said the current estimated cost of the Oroville Spillways Emergency Recovery Project through 2019 is $940 million, with major components including:

  • $630 million for main and emergency spillways work through the contract with Kiewit Infrastructure West 
  • $310 million for related recovery work including debris and sediment removal, powerline replacement, permitting and development of access roads, DWR staff time, technical consultants and inter-agency support.

The estimated cost for emergency response, which ended in May of 2017, remains unchanged at $160 million,” Mellon explained. “Response activities included erosion mitigation for both spillways during the incident, sediment removal, installation of temporary transmission lines, staff time, technical consultants and inter-agency support.” 

DWR awarded an initial $275 million contract in April 2017 to Kiewit to immediately plan and mobilize crews and equipment to begin construction in May 2017, according to Mellon. 

“This budget allowed Kiewit to begin necessary work while the project design was completed, and was not an estimate of the total project cost. Final plans for the main spillway were completed in July 2017 and final design plans for the emergency spillway were completed and approved in August 2018. As with any project of considerable magnitude, cost estimates are affected by conditions onsite and direction from regulatory bodies throughout design and construction,” she explained. 

To view photos and video of the Oroville Spillways construction, visit DWR’s Oroville Spillway photo galleryand YouTube channel.

The Environmental Water Caucus (EWC) and other environmental group have sent letters calling for an accounting of Oroville and State Water Project costs, but they reported hearing nothing back from state officials over the last 19 months since the dam crisis began in February 2017.

“The Oroville Dam Spillway repair project has increased fivefold from its original estimate in the span of one year and seven months,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta (RTD). “If the $19.9 billion Delta tunnels project ballooned to five times its currentestimated cost, that would mean total project costs could reach $100 billion.”

She said the Joint Legislative Budget Committee hearing scheduled at the State Capitol in Sacramento on Tuesday, September 11, in light of the latest information, should not take place until DWR fully accounts for Oroville and State Water Project costs.

“With that 12-digit figure in mind, the JLBC hearing should not happen until DWR assesses the full accounting of the State Water Project, including continued Oroville repairs, CA WaterFix amendments as part of the State Water contract, and a finance plan for the tunnels project,” said Barrigan-Parrilla-Parrilla. “Holding the hearing before all of these essential materials are available is irresponsible governance.” 

The Governor, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD) of Southern California and corporate agribusiness interests including Stewart and Lynda Resnick, the owners of the Wonderful Company, have been leaning hard on legislative leaders to hold this hearing. Restore the Delta, Food and Water Watch and other groups are urging Californians to call key legislators to delay this hearing that already been delayed twice. 

Call 855-969-5216 today to be connected with key legislators — urge them to delay the final hearing rescheduled for September 11 until we know who’s paying for the tunnels! Let’s keep up the pressure! Take a few minutes to call key legislators today:

Dial 855-969-5216. This line rotates between our two key targets — President of the State Senate Toni Atkins and the key Committee Chair Senator Holly Mitchell — who both have the power to stop this hearing.

1. Dial 855-969-5216. This line rotates between our two key targets — President of the State Senate Toni Atkins and the key Committee Chair Senator Holly Mitchell — who both have the power to stop this hearing.

2. Tell their office:

“I urge you to delay the State Water Project Contract informational hearing until next year. It’s irresponsible to hold this hearing without seeing the full amendments to the contract, or knowing the cost impact to California residents.

If this hearing isn’t delayed, your office will be responsible for forcing the cost of the corporate tunnels on California residents without public oversight.”