Supes pass Barger motion calling for dam-safety report

The Castaic Lake spillway. Katharine Lotze/Signal

In the wake of the spillway emergency at Northern California’s Oroville Dam, which has forced the evacuation of nearly 200,000 people, L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger on Tuesday pushed through a motion calling for the county Department of Public Works to conduct “a comprehensive investigation to determine any potential threats to public safety in the county’s system of dams, spillways and other water collection and diversion assets.’’

A spokesman for the county Department of Public Works, Steven Frasher, told The Signal that a report will be delivered to the Supervisors in 30 days.

“The Oroville situation reminds us of the need to proactively evaluate our county’s risk with regard to dams and other facilities which may be prone to failure from storms, earthquakes or other foreseeable events,” Barger, whose Fifth Supervisorial District includes Santa Clarita, said in a statement.

Barger’s motion – which passed by a 5-0 margin on Tuesday – also directs the county DPW to coordinate with other county agencies as well the state and federal governments “to develop a list of priority infrastructure projects by district.’’

According the county DPW, there are 18 “major” dams in and around the Los Angeles Basin — most in the San Gabriel Mountains, the closest to Santa Clarita being the Pacoima Dam near Sylmar.

Of those 18, 14 are maintained by the county DPW, including the Pacoima Dam. The others are maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Castaic Dam, part of the California Aqueduct system, is maintained by the state Department of Water Resources.

Kerjon Lee, a spokesman for the county DPW, told The Signal his agency already conducts regular inspections of the dams and spillways under its control.

“There’s a regimen of daily, weekly, monthly and annual inspections’’ for various elements of the dams, he said. “In preparation for the storm season, for instance, there are certain protocols to check that the lakes can take in that giant gulp of water, but also to make sure the integrity of the dams remain secure. If there are earthquakes, there are other protocols for that.’’

Frasher, the other DPW spokesman, said his agency on Tuesday promised the Supervisors “a comprehensive report” on the inspections and maintenance schedules already in place. That’s the report that will be delivered in 30 days.

The DPW has spent $160 million in recent years to maintain and upgrade its 14 dams – part of about $300 million spent on maintenance of county water infrastructure, he said.

Lee, asked if L.A. County dams could be considered in good shape – despite the fact that some date back to the 1920s and 1930s – said, “Yes, absolutely.”

A spokesman for Barger, Cameron Rankin, also said there was no reason to suspect area dams are in dangerous shape or under-maintained.

“The issue is the fact that we have to be proactive regarding public safety and redouble our efforts to make sure that all our dams and spillways are safe,’’ Rankin said.

Phone calls to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Water Resources were not immediately returned on Tuesday.

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