Army Corps of Engineers says Whittier Narrows Dam unsafe, risk to San Gabriel Valley

Thursday, September 14, 2017 10:14PM
The Army Corps of Engineers said the Whittier Narrows Dam is unsafe and could trigger catastrophic flooding all the way from Pico Rivera to Long Beach.


PICO RIVERA, Calif. - The Army Corps of Engineers said the Whittier Narrows Dam is unsafe and could trigger catastrophic flooding all the way from Pico Rivera to Long Beach.

Eric Lobato's backyard is the dam, which means that when water is released out of the flood gates, it comes within a few hundred feet of his home.

"Anytime there's a large amount of water behind there and they open the flood gates, you can see the water cresting in the channel," he said.

But Lobato said the shortage of rain, for the most part, has kept the flood plain dry and his neighborhood quiet. Neighbors like Margarita Rios said she sometimes forgets there's a dam lurking behind their homes.

"We haven't had any problems in the last 29 years, which is great," she said.

But the Army Corps of Engineers, which controls the 3-mile dam, reclassified it as a risk to the San Gabriel Valley.

In addition to erosion, one of the main issues lies in the dam's spillway, which was designed to open automatically when the water level exceeds a certain elevation. A malfunction of this system could prove catastrophic.

"The amount of water that they keep behind there is considerable," Lobato said.

The reclassification makes improvement of the dam one of the highest priority safety projects for the Army Corps of Engineers. Although the action is based on a concern about flooding, Rios said she's more concerned about an earthquake.

"We're expecting the big one, like they say, you know the San Andres Fault, and we know that the big one is coming. A lot of people don't want to get worried about it, but you know what? We have to be prepared," Rios said.

Construction to fix the issues facing the 60-year-old dam is set to begin in three years. Until then, the corps has put a stop to any future projects located in the flood plain.
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