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Morgan Hill
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September 27, 2021

Bill allows water district to select ‘best contractor’ for Anderson Dam retrofit

AB 271, introduced by Rivas, passes state assembly 71-0

The state assembly on Monday unanimously approved a bill that would assist with the retrofitting of Anderson Dam in Morgan Hill.

Assembly Bill 271, which was introduced and authored by Assemblymember Robert Rivas, passed in the assembly April 19 on a vote of 71-0, according to Rivas’ office. The bill now proceeds to the state senate.

The legislation builds on Rivas’ previous efforts to expedite the construction of Anderson Dam, which has been deemed seismically unsafe and is currently undergoing a significant retrofit.

“Given the seriousness and the complexity of the Anderson Dam Project, I’m grateful that my colleagues in the Assembly passed AB 271, which will help ensure our region is protected from potentially devastating flooding,” Rivas said. “As it stands today, Anderson Dam is over 70 years old and was built before engineers knew about the two nearby fault lines, including one directly under the dam. Valley Water must have the ability to pick the best team to construct this project and is not forced simply to pick the cheapest option.”

Among other provisions, AB 271 authorizes Valley Water—the lead sponsor of the Anderson Dam project—to “select the most skilled and trained construction contractors” for the project, says a press release from Rivas’ office. Currently, Valley Water is required to select the lowest bidding contractor, regardless of other factors such as quality, safety and experience.

“I thank Assemblymember Rivas for leading this bill to improve the contracting method for the Anderson Dam Seismic Retrofit Project,” said U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), who has been leading quarterly meetings on the Anderson Dam project at the federal level. “For the sake of all residents and businesses, we must ensure that the most qualified contractors are entrusted with this top priority construction project to prevent future damage, disruption, and loss of lives.”

Valley Water, the local water district that serves Santa Clara Valley, began draining Anderson Reservoir in 2020. The reservoir is now below 3% capacity as the district prepares to begin construction of a new discharge tunnel into Coyote Creek—the first phase of the retrofit project. Construction of the new tunnel is expected to last about three years.

After the new tunnel is complete, Valley Water will begin disassembling the existing earthen Anderson Dam and rebuilding it bigger and sturdier. That portion of the project is expected to last until about 2031.

“The bill would prohibit an Anderson Dam project contractor from being prequalified, shortlisted, or awarded a contract unless the contractor provides an enforceable commitment to the district that the contractor and its subcontractors at every tier will use a skilled and trained workforce to perform all work on the project, in accordance with certain criteria,” says the introduction to AB 271. “By requiring certain information of bidders to be certified under penalty of perjury, the bill would expand an existing crime, thereby imposing a state-mandated local program.”

State and federal authorities in 2009 determined that Anderson Dam, located off Cochrane Road in north Morgan Hill, would not withstand a major earthquake, and the crest of the dam could slump in such an event.

Since then, authorities have ordered the reservoir to remain unfilled beyond about two-thirds of its capacity in order to minimize potential flooding risks in the event of a dam failure.

The total cost of the tunnel and retrofit project is about $576 million.

Sen. John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) is the principal coauthor of AB 271. Coauthors of the legislation are Assemblymembers Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay) and Marc Berman (D-Menlo Park) and Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama).

In 2020, Rivas gained bipartisan support for Assembly Bill 3005, a bill he introduced to expedite the construction of Anderson Dam. The bill easily passed both the state assembly and senate, but Gov. Gavin Newsom did not sign the legislation.

“AB 271 addresses the Governor’s concerns by removing the provisions of AB 3005 relating to streamlining of certain State permitting processes,” says the press release from Rivas’ office.

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