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These California Dams Need Repairs, but Newsom Plans to Cut Grants in Half
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By CalMatters
Published 1 month ago on
June 13, 2024

Aiming to store more water and protect the public, legislators are negotiating with the governor to restore $50 million to help repair 42 aging dams throughout the state. (CalMatters/John Gastaldo)

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Several dozen dams throughout California could store up to 107 billion more gallons of water if they underwent repairs to fix safety problems. But facing a staggering state deficit, Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed cutting funding for a dam repair grant program in half this year, while state legislators want the $50 million restored.

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Rachel Becker

CalMatters

California has an aging network of nearly 1,540 dams — large and small, earthen and concrete — that help store vital water supplies. For 42 of these dams, state officials have restricted the amount of water that can be stored behind them because safety deficiencies would raise the risk to people downstream from earthquakes, storms or other problems.

Owned by cities, counties, utilities, water districts and others, these dams have lost nearly 330,000 acre-feet of storage capacity because of the state’s safety restrictions. That water — equivalent to the amount used by 3.6 million people for a year — could be used to supply communities, farms or hydropower.

Newsom’s Previous Stance on Dam Repairs

Two years ago, in the depths of the most recent drought, Newsom touted dam repairs as a key approach to shore up water supplies squeezed by climate change. In his 2022 Water Supply Strategy, he referenced plans by his administration and the Legislature to create a grant program to “help local water districts regain lost storage capacity and improve public safety” of dams.

The program, created in 2023 and allocated an initial $100 million, is still getting up and running.

But now, reeling from the massive deficit, Newsom has proposed cutting $50 million this year. The Legislature as of Wednesday has kept that money in its proposed budget; negotiations are continuing.

“This investment is the trifecta: It gives you public safety, because you don’t want dams breaking. It gives you climate resilience, because we could have flooding,” said Assemblymember Diane Papan, a Democrat from San Mateo. And, she added, “It will impact our water supply.”

Newsom spokesperson Alex Stack declined to address CalMatters’ questions about dam safety funding, citing the negotiations. “We’ll have more to share soon,” Stack said.

About the Author

Rachel Becker is a journalist reporting on California’s complex water challenges and water policy issues for CalMatters. She’s covered drought, water standoffs, groundwater depletion, water quality and the world’s biggest dam removal.

About CalMatters

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom committed to explaining California policy and politics.

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