FEMA Approves $205 million for Oroville Spillways Work; DWR Hoping for Additional Funds

By on March 10, 2019

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notified the Department of Water Resources (DWR) earlier this week that it has approved $205 million in federal funds to reimburse the state of California for costs related to the 2017 Oroville Dam spillways incident and some spillway reconstruction. FEMA had previously approved $128.4 million for reimbursement for emergency response, debris removal and other costs and this week’s announcement is in addition to the previous disbursement.

The 2017 Oroville Dam spillways incident occurred when the dam’s main spillway and the adjacent emergency spillway were ravaged in early Feb. 2017 when northern California experienced unprecedented atmospheric rivers and sustained storms. A crater in the main spillway was found initially measuring 250 ft (76 m) and it continued to grow. On February 11, the Oroville Lake level topped 901 ft (275 m) above sea level and water began flowing over the concrete weir along the top of the emergency spillway, cascading onto the emergency spillway for the first time in the dam’s history. The erosion at the base of the weir progressed much faster than anticipated and the erosion of the emergency spillway threatened to undermine and collapse the concrete weir. Luckily, no damaged was sustained below the dam nor to the downstream residents and businesses in Oroville or the surrounding communities.

FEMA’s notification to DWR also stated that it does not consider some spillway reconstruction to be eligible for reimbursement based on information submitted by DWR to date. The most recent reimbursement is based on cost estimates provided by DWR last summer.

FEMA’s reimbursement determination is based on its eligibility categories and policies. DWR will now be working with FEMA to provide further information to support the department’s assertion that all reconstruction n work should be eligible for reimbursement. DWR will provide updated cost estimates in the coming weeks and anticipates additional reimbursements will be approved.

“We appreciate the hard work and commitment of FEMA staff, however (we) are disappointed in some of their initial interpretations regarding cost eligibility,” said Joel Ledesma, DWR deputy director of the State Water Project. “Our reconstruction work was necessary to safely operate the main spillway and ensure functionality of the emergency spillway. DWR plans to appeal FEMA’s determination as we believe all costs should be eligible for federal reimbursement.”

The most recent reimbursement determination from FEMA is not a statement on the quality of the reconstruction work or whether the work was necessary. The agency’s Public Assistance program reimburses applicants at least 75 percent of eligible costs associated with a federally declared disaster.