A look at Los Angeles County dams after Oroville

Morris Dam is just one of the many dams controlled by Los Angeles County. Among them are the dams at Castaic, Devils Gate, Whittier Narrows and Morris Dam.

Morris Dam in the San Gabriel Mountains is about 85 years old. With what happened at Lake Oroville, it raises questions. Can that kind of dam failure happen anywhere, like here?

The valves on Morris Dam have been updated. The spillways are like Oroville, but Mark Pestrella, the acting director of LA County Public Works, doesn't think there would be a catastrophic dam failure here.

"The dams here in LA County are what I consider among the safest dams in the nation and that's due to our constant rehabilitation and maintenance of the facilities," Pestrella said.

That's a pretty big statement, but Pestrella believes it. He says anything can happen with Mother Nature and rainfall, but that's why there are daily and weekly inspections of each dam and once annually for the state.

Southern California is not without its failures of a dam. An epic one happened in 1928 in San Francisquito Canyon. More than 400 people were killed by the floodwaters from the dam's failure.

"The engineering standards today are way higher than they were at that time," Pestrella said. "It's still Mother Nature and there's still some art to this."

This falls on the operators, who during heavy rains have to control the reservoir, "deciding how much to keep in the bathtub and knowing more is coming."

On inspections of the county's concrete dams, Pestrella says, "We do dam inspections on a daily basis, and we have engineers that are full time 24/7 monitoring and making sure the facilities are operating as designed."

Despite that, when Oroville happened, it was an attention getter.

"We all got on the phone real quick; wanted to know how that happened one, lessons learned and every facility is unique unto itself," Pestrella said.

The public works bar for a dam's stamina is the highest maximum flood that could happen in this area says the acting director.

"Something that no one living here has seen before. Something like a 10,000 year event occurring."

There was that killer dam disaster in 1928 when the St. Frances dam broke in Los Angeles.

Currently in Morris Dam Reservoir, there's about 10,000 acre feet of water, which is about the size of 10,000 football fields a foot deep. It will hold about 25.

Tomorrow, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will consider a motion to inspect all of the dams under the county's control to make sure they are all in good shape given what's happened up in Northern California.

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