Editorial: Time for Legislature to Fight Through Oroville Dam Secrecy

State legislators aren’t getting answers about the Lake Oroville spillway. Neither is the federal government. Or the county government. Or journalists. Or the public.

But matters are coming to a head as two north state legislators whose districts include Lake Oroville are demanding answers. It’s about time.

Last Thursday, Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, admitted at a public appearance that he had many questions about the broken spillway — more questions than answers.

Later that afternoon, our sister newspaper in Chico ran another story that showed a lack of transparency. They had been trying for weeks to clarify with the state Department of Water Resources what the agency means when it says the Hyatt Powerplant under the dam is operating at maximum capacity.

Our understanding — certainly not informed by DWR’s press releases — was that one of the six turbines at the power plant was not functioning, and water couldn’t run through it, thus reducing flow through the power plant.

DWR eventually admitted, through a spokeswoman, one turbine has been out of commission for nearly two years. But when the paper requested to speak with a supervisor familiar with dam operations who could answer follow-up questions, it was told that wasn’t going to happen.

That’s no surprise with DWR. In fact, the next day the Sacramento Bee reported DWR wouldn’t release documents from an independent panel of experts that the newspaper said “could shed light on repair plans and safety issues at crippled Oroville Dam.”

A DWR spokeswoman cited security concerns and declined interview requests.

Again, it’s all par for the course. Ask Butte County, which has been arguing with DWR for nearly 20 years over the ongoing relicensing saga of the hydroelectric project.

But this time, at least, the obstinate agency has the attention of Gallagher and state Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber.

The lawmakers issued a statement in response to the Bee article that said written communication between the federal government and DWR should be made public in the interest of “full transparency.”

“Any attempt to withhold reports or documents of this nature will be viewed by our constituents as an attempt to cover up the truth. And that simply will not be tolerated,” they said. “This lack of transparency only elevates the concern. This emphasizes the need for legislative oversight hearings.”

We’re glad the legislators are finally on board with the obvious conclusion. Back on Feb. 11, the day before the sudden evacuation of 188,000 people forced by the crumbling spillway, the Chico paper urged Neilsen and Gallagher “to lead the charge” for answers.

Nearly two months later, their patience has apparently run out. Ours did a while ago.
When even the people charged with oversight can’t get answers, there is something horribly wrong.

By: East Bay Times Editorial Board
Published: April 6, 2017 by East Bay Times
Read original here.