James Gallagher

There are 34 storage facilities, 30 dams, 23 pumping plants and nine hydroelectric power generation plants that are part of the California State Water Project, and the Department of Water Resources is in charge of not only operating but also of inspecting all of them.

Local Assemblyman James Gallagher says that’s a conflict of interest, and a bill he’s pushing looks to take some of that authority away from DWR.

“It’s a conflict of interest to have the same entity operating and maintaining a facility that they are also a regulator of. This piece of legislation would remove the responsibility of operations and maintenance from DWR and give it over to an independent commission. DWR would continue to be in charge of dam inspections and safety, but there would no longer be a conflict of interest,” Gallagher said.

Gallagher’s bill – AB 3045 – has already gained some traction, unanimously passing the Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee on Tuesday. The next stop is the Assembly Appropriations Committee for further consideration.

“We had bipartisan support; it passed with no opposition in the committee, so we like our chances going into Appropriations,” Gallagher said. “We are hopeful moving forward. This is something I feel is significant and in need of reform.”

When he drafted the bill initially, the idea was to transfer authority over all dams and reservoirs in the state to the Natural Resources Agency, but the bill “morphed” while in the committee to what it is now, Gallagher said.

He said it was an important piece of legislation for him because of what he and his constituents went through in 2017 with the Lake Oroville spillways crises and the events that followed. 

“We want to continue to bring reforms. It’s one thing to get the facility fixed, but I’m more interested in the long term on how the facilities will be operated and maintained and to ensure greater independent oversight,” Gallagher said. 

If his bill passes as it is currently written, a new independent body would be formed – the “State Water Project Commission.” The 9-member commission would have to be appointed by the governor and approved by the Senate, he said. 

The members would consist of civil engineers and risk managers, but it would also include individuals with municipal and agricultural water interests, and at least one representative from Butte County to represent the interests of downstream communities that are at the most risk of a failure of the Oroville Dam, he said. 

Gallagher said another important piece is that the independent entity would be subject to transparency laws. 

“This is going to be part of an ongoing process and discussion, but I think we need to start having it,” Gallagher said.

A DWR spokesperson declined to comment on the bill Tuesday.

Gallagher submitted the bill Feb. 16. State Sen. Jim Nielsen is a co-author.

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