Grand Jury report highlights failure risks of Ventura County dams

VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. - Newly released results of a grand jury report dated May 10, 2018, shed an ominous light on the condition of dams in Ventura County.

The study was prompted by the failure of the spillway at Oroville Dam in 2017.

Grand jury members looked at the condition of 20 dams in or near Ventura County and discovered that 14 of those structures could cause significant loss of life and property if they failed in the event of a major earthquake or storm. 

Ten of these dams are in Ventura County and include: Bard Reservoir, Casitas Dam, Lake Eleanor, Lake Sherwood, Las Llajas, Matilija Dam, Runkle Debris Basin, Santa Felicia Dam, Senior Canyon, and Linaloa Lake.

The findings reveal that four of those dams have "existing or potential deficiencies." Matilija Dam ranks among the worst with a "poor" rating. Plans are in the works to both remove the dam and find more money to fund the estimated $100 million to $200 million dollar project.

The grand jury also found the dams' owners have no safety protocol or escape routes in place for the public in the event of a failure.

Among the grand jury recommendations: "the Office of Emergency Services work more closely with the state Division of Safety of Dams to monitor and evaluate safety for dams in or affecting Ventura County and track the progress of remedial action taken at Matilija Dam, Santa Felicia Dam, Castaic Dam, and Bouquet Canyon Dam. annually to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors."

The following excerpt gives a historical perspective of the catastrophic potential a dam failure could have on communities in Ventura County: 

Ninety years ago, the St. Francis Dam collapsed on a tributary of the Santa Clara River. Approximately 12.4 billion gallons of water  [32,000 acre-feet]  rose to a height of 140 feet, surging 54 miles to the Pacific Ocean. A wall of water two miles wide leveled towns in its path.

Many people were alerted by frantic phone calls from phone operator Louise Gipe. Others were alerted by local law enforcement officers, including Highway Patrolman Thornton Edwards, who rode through the Santa Clara River Valley with the alert ahead of the flood waters.

Despite these efforts, at least 450 people lost their lives in the disaster, many within the communities of Piru, Fillmore, and Santa Paula. Flood waters damaged property and facilities all the way to the Pacific Ocean. 

To read the report in its entirety, click here.

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