California lawmakers increase dam safeguards after dam scare

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California would beef up dam inspections under legislation sent to Gov. Jerry Brown Monday, a year after a near disaster prompted the evacuation of nearly 200,000 residents.

The Assembly unanimously gave final approval to the bill requiring annual inspections for dams deemed to be high hazards.

The measure also sets standards for inspections; requires periodic review of dams' original design and construction records; requires inspectors to consult with independent experts to update dam safety measures every 10 years; and requires that inspection reports be available to the public with certain sensitive information withheld if it creates a security risk.

"We left not knowing if we would even have a home to return to. But we came back vowing 'Never again,'" said Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher, who sponsored the bill. "This disaster jeopardized lives, property and California's water supply."

The bill implements several subsequent recommendations, including requiring that inspectors no longer simply accept the safety presumed in original design and construction materials, said Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman of Stockton.

The annual inspections would be required for dams classified as being significant, high or extremely high hazards, and every two years for dams and reservoirs is classified as low hazard. Critical spillway control features would have to be tested each year and witnessed by state inspectors at least every three years.

The federal rankings are based on factors including the size of the dam and its degree of risk to people downstream, not the dam's current condition. A separate new law requires California dam inspectors to also consider the dam's condition. California has 678 dams deemed high hazard, 271 deemed significant hazard and 289 low hazard under the federal guidelines.

The final vote came as nearly $1 billion in repairs continue on the main and emergency spillways at the nation's tallest dam.