The Army Corps of Engineers released a tentative plan Thursday on how to repair the vulnerable Lake Isabella Dam. They plan to reinforce the existing dam, not build a new one.
While design is happening now, construction on the dam won't start until 2016. The plan is to raise the dam 16 feet, create a spillway for overflows, patch areas susceptible to seeping, and earthquake-proof the dam. The Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District said this will make the dam 10,000 times safer.
Problems with the dam were discovered years ago and the dam has since been dubbed one of the most "at-risk" dams the Army Corps of Engineers takes care of nationwide.
"This is a very critical project for us," said Joe Calcara, Civilian Leader for the Army Corps of Engineers South Division. "This is our number one priority in this region for dam safety."
If the dam broke, officials predict catastrophic results. They predict the water would rush into the Kern Valley eventually overwhelming hundreds of thousands of residents in Bakersfield.
Congressman Kevin McCarthy, as well as other Army Corps of Engineers leaders, toured the dam Thursday, assuring the public that the dam is safe for now and will be even safer when it's repaired.
"Safety is the number one concern," said McCarthy. "This is one of the top safety concerns throughout the nation."
"We think this dam project will be completed about ten years from now," said Col. Bill Leady, Commander for the Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District.
Dam construction will actually start in 2016. Estimated costs are between $400 and $600 million. These are funds that Congressman McCarthy said will be available. "This is on the top priority list and will be fully funded," he said.
The most controversial part of the plan is, at some point during construction for about nine to ten months, the lake water will be lowered seven feet from its average level. This would be from 2,550 feet above sea level to 2,543 feet above sea level. Currently, Lake Isabella is low at 2,547 feet above sea level.
"It just can't be done in any cost effective way without lowering the water for a short period," said Col. Leady.
Lowering the lake level may cause submerged trees and rocks to peak out, which may bother boaters. "It's fun to go out on the water, but if it's too low you're going to get stuck, and you're going to run into rocks and trees and that won't be fun," said Jennifer McLaughlin, visiting the lake from Orange County.
"That's not even cool." said Mike Rizzo, Lake Isabella resident. "That will wreck a lot of crap around here. The tourism, the economy, and all that good stuff"
The Army Corps of Engineers said it will try to avoid lowering the lake level during the tourism season. The lake may not be lowered until 2019 or later.