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Butte County prosecutor wants California agency fined up to $51 billion for Oroville spillway failure

Butte County prosecutors are seeking up to $51 billion in fines and penalties against California's water agency for damage caused to local river-based wildlife after the Oroville dam spillway failure last year, officials said.

In a civil complaint filed this week, District Attorney Mike Ramsey accused the Department of Water Resources of failing to build the Oroville Dam's spillway on sturdy bedrock, which led to its rapid deterioration last February amid the heaviest winter storms the region had seen in years.

Officials at the DWR declined to comment Thursday.

The spillway failure forced the state to dump hundreds of thousands of acre-feet of water into the Feather River below, and with it, concrete debris, silt, lime and other materials that killed fish and other wildlife, Ramsey said.

The complaint seeks between $34 billion and $51 billion in fines for the agency.

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DWR is being prosecuted under a Fish and Game code that fines an entity $10 per pound of material illegally dumped into a waterway. According to DWR, about 1.7 million cubic yards of debris flowed off the spillway and adjacent earthen hillside during the emergency. A cubic yard weighs between 2,000 and 3,000 pounds, Ramsey said.

Ramsey called it ironic that the state is being prosecuted under one of its oldest environmental laws because the law was created after hydrologic mining in Northern California choked the area's rivers -- including those around Butte County -- with silt and mud.

The filing also seeks to enjoin the state from ever allowing this to happen again. The spillway is currently being reconstructed with better, stronger materials and on a sturdier foundation, engineers have said.

--Los Angeles Times

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