In the wake of Oroville incident, dam owners face new EAP requirements

Posted in: Energy, Water

The Oroville Dam spillway incident has had far-reaching ramifications for the dam industry. Numerous pieces of legislation have sprung up in the wake of this incident both statewide and on the national level. California specifically has seen a significant overhaul of its dam safety regulations.

California Senate Bill 92, enacted in June 2017, requires a dam owner to develop an EAP (Emergency Action Plan) based on approved inundation maps. Inundation maps must be submitted to the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) Division of Safety of Dams (DSOD) for approval prior to submittal of a completed EAP to California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) for approval. Mead & Hunt completed the first EAP approved by Cal OES.

Cal OES submittal deadlines for a completed EAP with approved inundation maps are based on each dam’s downstream hazard classification, shown below. The classification considers the potential loss of life and property damage that could result should the dam fail at full reservoir capacity. The classification is in no way related to the structural integrity of the dam.

Downstream Hazard Classification Loss of Human Life Economic, Environmental, and Lifeline Losses Submittal Deadline
​Extremely High Considerable (≥1000) Major impacts to critical infrastructure or property January 1, 2018
High Probable (≥1) Yes January 1, 2019
Significant None expected Significant January 1, 2021
>​Low None expected Low and generally limited to dam owner’s property EAP not required


It can take a substantial amount of time to get an EAP approved, so dam owners need to be aware of the deadlines well in advance. To that end, Mead & Hunt has been involved in a dam safety marketing campaign to inform dam owners of the new requirements and processes. Inundation maps alone have statutory requirements that can take 2-3 months to complete. DSOD review and approval can take up to 6 months. A lot of communication between dam owners and emergency management agencies is needed to create an EAP; the process can take up to 3 months.

To satisfy all requirements, it can take up to one year to get an EAP approved. If this seems like a lot to take in, don’t worry—not only do DSOD and Cal OES have helpful guidance and templates available, but Mead & Hunt is available to assist with the EAP process.

While it is easy to get frustrated by the bureaucratic minutia, this legislation works to protect what is most important as we consider dam safety: the health and safety of our community and our environment. The sobering reality is often this new legislation, and the new practices they require, only occur once things have already gone wrong. It is our responsibility to learn from mistakes made in the past so that we can continue to move forward.

Other Mead & Hunt articles about Oroville:

FERC AFTER ACTION PANEL: Oroville is still inciting dam safety changes nationwide

Oroville incident improves spillway safety across the nation

Surfing the waves of inundation mapping regulations

Carson Mettel, PE

About the Author

Carson Mettel, P.E., is Mead & Hunt’s National Market Leader for Dams and Hydropower. He has 35+ years of experience working with water resources, dams and hydro power projects. In his hours away from work, Carson is a pie connoisseur and enjoys biking, two interests that definitely complement each other.

Read more posts by Carson Mettel, PE

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