Geologist discusses probability of ‘The Big One’ hitting SCV

Golden Valley High School administrators organizes classrooms rosters during to account for all students during The Great California ShakeOut (cq) drill at their school on Thursday. Dan Watson/The Signal


United States Geological Survey (USGS) scientists estimate that half of Americans, or 143 million people nationwide, live and work in areas that are exposed to potentially damaging earthquakes.

This risk is well-known to Southern California residents who live along the unpredictable San Andreas Fault.

So, what is the risk of a magnitude 8-earthquake, better known as “The Big One,” hitting the Santa Clarita Valley?

“It will happen for sure over the next 30 to 50 years, but there’s some change it will happen sooner,” said Dr. Vincent Devlahovich, geologist and professor of geology in the earth, space and environmental department at College of the Canyons.  “There is really no way to tell.”

Devlahovich said that when “The Big One” does hit, it will rupture the southern section of the fault line which is located just north of Lake Castaic.

In Santa Clarita, a quake of this magnitude is expected to impact the valley’s water supply, Castaic Dam, Highway 14 and the Newhall Pass, according to Devlahovich.

“When the San Andreas does go off, the Pacific Plate we’re on is going to move about 30-some feet in a heartbeat to the northwest,” he said.  “That’s going to do some severe damage like all of our water coming through our three aqueduct systems is going to be severed.”

Devlahovich said any bodies of water on the fault line, like Lake Palmdale and Lake Elizabeth, will become sag ponds, or sunken bodies of water formed when faults move.

The concrete Castaic Dam is especially at risk because it is located less than 20 miles from the fault, according to Devlahovich.  The Newhall Pass, which fell during the 1971 Sylmar Earthquake and 1994 Northridge Earthquake is also at risk.

According to Devlahovich, the best thing residents can do is prepare to be self-sufficient for 72 hours following an earthquake.  This means storing enough water, food, medical supplies and other emergency supplies in one’s home and car to last up to three days.

“The best way to prepare is to have things on hand that will protect us,” he said.  “I really encourage everyone to prepare… and really recommend looking at the USGS site.”

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