Farm Files Claim Against State Over Troubled Oroville Dam Spillway

A farm in Butte County has filed a claim against the state of California alleging the Department of Water Resources is responsible for damages from the Oroville Dam spillway flooding, the farm's attorneys said in a statement released Wednesday.

JEM Farms and Chandon Ranch operate a walnut farm on about 2,000 acres running along the east and west side s of Feather River, downstream from Lake Oroville, the lawyers said.

In the claim, the farm alleges that water officials and the Division of Safety of Dams "acted recklessly and with intent, resulting in the progressive deterioration of the performance abilities of the gated spillway at the Oroville facility."

The main spillway at the dam started eroding in early February, and water officials cut back the flow to assess the damage. Heavy rains then caused the lake to rise quickly and eventually spill over the emergency spillway. Soon after water began flowing over the emergency spillway, water officials deemed it unstable and alerted local authorities, who then ordered a mass evacuation in downstream communities.

Lawyers for the farm say water officials were aware of the spillway's instability and failed to correct it.

"Our investigation shows the Department of Water Resources failed to address a known hazard and made only Band-aid repairs," attorney NIall McCarthy said in a statement.

McCarthy's associate, Camilo Artiga-Purcell, added: "For years, the state of California knew the gated spillway would fail but chose to roll the dice with the safety and property of the residents of Oroville."

The attorneys filed what they called a "multimillion-dollar claim" on behalf of the farm. They have scheduled a news conference for noon Thursday to talk in detail about their legal action.

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