Corps updates Success Dam status
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
During the past few months, we’ve had two big developments with our project to fix Success Dam. So I’d like to explain the status of the project, and what its future looks like to us now.
As we look forward, it’s important to keep in mind that over its 50 year life so far, Success Dam has provided considerable value – preventing flooding during many wet years and providing essential water storage.
Last month, we bought the first of the three properties closest to the dam. We expect to begin the appraisal process for the Lakeside Trailer Park in the coming weeks. Purchasing those properties is an important step in reducing the risk at Success, and we are glad to be delivering on it for those who have waited to move for so long.
You may have read that the president’s plan for the 2012 federal budget includes $15 million for buying those and other properties. If the budget is signed into law unchanged, much of that money would be spent on buying property, but not all of it.
Our plan to buy a total of 24 properties, as reported recently in this newspaper, was based on outdated information. The plan we were leaning toward a few months ago is no longer the clear front-runner, and for that reason we are only purchasing three properties for now.
In August, we submitted a draft report of our investigation into the risks at Success Dam and the options for addressing them to the highest-level Corps technical review team.
Today, more than ever before, the Corps extensively reviews decisions about dam safety projects. Several technical teams independently review reports like ours, to ensure that we’re making the most practical, technically sound judgments possible – and getting the best value for taxpayer dollars.
During this review process, we determined that our study requires a more in-depth look at a few issues. It’s a setback, but it ensures that when we finish this study, we’ll have even more confidence that our plan is the right one. That’s important for Porterville and for the nation too.
Success Dam is currently categorized in the Corps’ second riskiest class of dams. Of the Corps’ 674 dams, there are 80-100 dams considered a higher public safety risk than Success. The challenge of fixing them all is enormous.
Infrastructure is built with an expected service life. For earthen dams like Success, that’s generally about 50 years.
Success Dam was completed 50 years ago, in 1961. It was in the early-to-middle decades of the 1900s that most of America’s big federal dams were built. So a great many of them, including Success, are coming due for major overhauls at once. We have to deal with that during a time when federal resources for infrastructure improvements are limited. The Corps’ dam safety program is about making the best use of those resources to reduce risk to the greatest number of lives.
The reality of it is that even with Success’ risks many of America’s other dams pose a higher risk to more lives. Even after we figure out how to fix Success, we won’t be able to predict when we’ll get the funding for construction.
Since I took command of the Corps’ Sacramento District last summer, I’ve met with community leaders, water managers and farmers in Porterville and the surrounding communities to talk about our progress toward lowering the risk at the dam to acceptable levels. They were blunt and honest with me about how waiting on us to repair the dam is hurting the agricultural businesses that rely on Success for water storage, and how this is affecting people’s livelihoods, and raising food prices, too.
I understand their frustration. We’ve been studying how to address safety issues at Success Dam since we first found problems with it back in 1998. That’s a long time, but we have reduced those risks by keeping the water level behind the dam lower – and we are closer than ever to selecting a repair plan.
Our focus meanwhile is on your safety. We are working to complete the study as quickly as we can. And we will continue to make every effort to reduce the risk from the dam until we do - and to be open and frank about where the project stands along the way.
Col. William J. Leady, is district engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.