Local emergency officials say plans to modernize the Lake Isabella Dam will take a considerable amount of time, pinning a completion date sometime in 2017.
The stability of the dam has been questioned by experts since 2006. It was constructed in 1953 to what were, at the time, modern standards.
On Tuesday, the Army Corps of Engineers collected information and heard public concerns about the effect renovations to the dam could have on the environment.
It’s just one step in a long series of steps before major renovations can take place – a long series that, based on official estimates, could mean eleven years will pass between identifying the problems and fixing them.
But, local officials say this sort of time frame is not uncommon. “Because it’s going to be a big, expensive fix, it’s not something they can just run out and do,” said Georgianna Armstrong, Kern County Emergency Services Manager. “It has to be done thoughtfully and carefully.”
As part of that careful process, engineers in charge of the project are hosting public forums this week to allow people the chance to ask questions and voice concerns about the impact of possible renovations on surrounding areas.
Based on their own findings and the input of the public, they’ll prepare a rough environmental study.
The meeting dates and locations are as follows:
Wednesday, April 18th:
Lake Isabella – Kern River Valley Senior Center from 6-8 p.m.
Thursday, April 19th
Bakersfield – Kern County Board of Supervisors Chambers from 6-8 p.m.
As far as necessary renovations, Armstrong says there a few key areas that engineers are still trying to address.
“They’ve identified three areas of weakness with the dam,” said Armstrong. “There’s seismic, there’s seepage, and there’s spillway.”
In other words, the dam is still vulnerable to earthquakes, leaks, and overflowing if there was a sudden rush of water into the sources that feed the dam. For instance, heavy snowfall followed by warm weather that quickly melts the snow could create that influx.
While this may sound alarming, Armstrong says a catastrophe involving the dam is highly unlikely anytime soon. The concern is for any possible trouble in the first place.
“It was not something that could be overlooked as one of those ‘Oh, this could never happen’ scenarios,” said Armstrong. “If it did, the consequences would be very severe.”
Consequences could include the inundation of the areas immediately surrounding Lake Isabella as well as most of Bakersfield west of Highway 99 and some areas east of the highway.
In fact, downtown Bakersfield could be hit by as much as 20-30 feet of water, according to maps provided by the county.
Additionally, farmland and crops in the region could be destroyed by the excess saturation.