James Gallagher

Survey results largely showed that respondents weren’t happy with how things went down this past February at the Lake Oroville spillways and the events that followed. Most respondents expressed their concerns were with the California Department of Water Resources. A majority said they were more concerned about the state entity responsible for operating and maintaining the reservoir in a check-box titled “other” than they were of terrorists threatening the facility’s critical infrastructure.

And that was only one of 12 questions in a recent survey conducted by Assemblyman James Gallagher that saw 3,322 residents participate last month.

Gallagher and his team mailed surveys to every residence within the areas that were evacuated in Butte, Sutter and Yuba counties where a registered voter resides. Others filled out the questionnaire online.

The survey was partly to gauge the public’s view of the issues, but it was also to gather input on what residents think should happen moving forward, Gallagher said.

“I wouldn’t say I was surprised by any of the survey’s results. I’ve been talking to a lot people throughout the districts, so I felt I knew what they were already feeling,” Gallagher said.

If anything, he said he was most surprised to see more than half of respondents were certain reconstruction of the spillway wouldn’t be completed by the Nov. 1 deadline.

Gallagher, who has taken multiple tours of the job site since reconstruction began, said he is confident that crews will finish on time. But he said the survey results are an indication of just how much distrust the public has for DWR following the events over the past eight months.

“I anticipate they will get back to us, but either way we shared the information with them as a way to say ‘this is the best snapshot of how people are feeling’ and that it’s something they should take into account moving forward. We hope they take this information,” Gallagher said.

Erin Mellon, assistant director of Public Affairs, said DWR is reviewing the survey Gallagher conducted.

“We’re not formally required to respond to the survey but we appreciate the opportunity to continue engaging with his office and the community,” Mellon said. “I cannot say whether or not we’ll be making any changes based on the survey at this point.”

The survey was conducted between Aug. 28 and Sept. 30. Results were submitted to DWR, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the State Water Contractors on Oct. 17.

Gallagher said this was the first comprehensive survey conducted regarding the spillway incident, but another could be sent out  to see how residents are feeling about the reconstruction process.

“It’s one thing to fix the spillway, but it’s another thing to change the culture in how they manage the dam, and I think that’s what most people are interested in. They don’t want to see the same old status quo,” Gallagher said.

Oroville Dam survey results

Though participants weren’t required to answer every question, the majority of respondents agreed that: 

More water should be released from the reservoir when there is a heavy snowpack during the winter (63.4 percent.

– DWR shouldn’t be issued a new license to operate the reservoir until the cause of the February incident has been identified and operations are modified to address safety concerns (85.1 percent).

– Spillway reconstruction efforts won’t be completed by the Nov. 1 deadline (54.9 percent).

– State Water Contractors that benefit from the reservoir’s water storage should be on the hook for repair costs (57.1 percent).

– When asked if the independent forensics team – which is tasked with determining the cause of the initial erosion of the main spillway – will produce a “fair and accurate assessment,” 1,187 residents said yes, but even more said they were unsure (1,399 people).

– In terms of whether the green spot seen on the face of the dam – what DWR has repeatedly said is a vegetation growth caused by pooled water and not anything to worry about -- could indicate a potential for failure, 44.9 percent of respondents were still unsure, and 38 percent believe DWR’s assessment is incorrect or that it does pose a risk of failing.

– The majority of respondents (77.4 percent) didn’t attend the public meetings organized by DWR following the incident. Of those that did, the majority found the information provided in the sessions were insufficient.

– Most respondents reported that they hadn’t suffered a financial loss as a result of the spillway failure and evacuation (54.1 percent). Sixty-nine people filed a claim with the Department of General Services to be reimbursed for financial losses, but nine of those claims were reportedly rejected. A total of 1,596 people said they didn’t file a claim with the department, either because they chose not to or because they didn’t know about the process.

The three most agreed upon statements by respondents were that DWR should make all inspection and maintenance records public (83 percent), long-term independent oversight of DWR and its dam operations is needed (79 percent) and that the spillway crisis was manmade and preventable (75 percent).

The top three issues residents want addressed included long-term independent oversight (54.9 percent), making sure the spillway reconstruction meets the Nov. 1 deadline (54.5 percent) and that the “green spot” needs to be identified (45.3 percent).

Survey results can be found at https://goo.gl/Zmqkxb.

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