LA County dams getting safety evaluation amid Oroville Dam situation

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors asked the Department of Public Works to evaluate 14 dams to make sure they are safe in light of the events at the Oroville Dam. (KABC)

Nearly 200,000 people below the Oroville Dam were forced to evacuate, but in Los Angeles County, millions of people live below dams and don't even know it.

Mark Pestrella, acting director of L.A. County's Department of Public Works, said the county spent more than $300 million over the past few years to make their dams more resilient to storms and earthquakes.

He said the 14 county-owned dams and spillways are inspected on a daily basis and are up to par - but the dams are not getting any younger.

"About almost all the infrastructure in Los Angeles County is around 100 years old. Some of our reservoirs are newer than that, but it's a good guess that anywhere from 75 to 100 years old are how old the dams are," he said.

With ages like that and scenes in Oroville sparking concern, L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Berger is asking for a safety assessment to be done at all county dams immediately.

"We're asking the Department of Public Works to come back in 30 days with a full report reviewing all of our infrastructure and our dams to make sure that we have the capacity and the ability to address the rains," she said.

The county is no stranger to a dam tragedy. The worst dam failure in the area happened nearly 90 years ago, when the St. Francis Dam gave out. A wall of water more than 100-feet tall swept through the Santa Clarita area, killing almost 500 people.

But current dams are considerably safer, Pestrella said, as are the ways officials now would handle serious problems like what is going on in Oroville.

"L.A. County plans for the worst event, and in the event that we did have to evacuate people or make warnings, we have a full system to actually let people know and to get out of harm's way before anything might happen," he said.

There are more than 80,000 dams in the United States. The Society of Civil Engineers gives an overall grade of a D to these dams, but Pestrella said L.A. County's dams earn A and B grades.
Related Topics:
environmentweatherrainoroville damsafetyevacuationLos Angeles County
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