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The Mojave River Dam could fail and flood the Victor Valley

HESPERIA, Calif. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has changed Mojave River Dam’s risk characterization from low to high urgency of action.  

The change was the result of recent risk assessment findings that during an extreme flood event, water could exceed the design capacity of the dam and overtop it.

This could potentially result in dam failure, flooding the communities of Hesperia, Apple Valley, Victorville and Barstow, located adjacent to the Mojave River.

Flood waters also could reach Baker, more than 140 miles downstream of the dam.

Built in 1971, the Mojave River Dam was designed and constructed consistent with the standards of the day. It continues to operate as it was designed and reduces risk for more than 16,000 people and $1.5 billion in property.

In fiscal year 2018, a periodic assessment was performed to review the condition of the dam, its expected performance and potential downstream consequences. The preliminary hydrology study done to support the assessment shows the dam could fail should water flow over the top of it.

“The dam has never experienced spillway flow or a flood event that has loaded the dam significantly,” said Col. Aaron Barta, commander of the Corps’ Los Angeles District. “This is a storm that is unlikely to occur, but it is nonetheless a real possibility and one we must be prepared for.”

The agency is evaluating interim risk-reduction measures associated with a potential overtopping of the dam and anticipates some of those measures will be in place prior to this year’s winter rains.

The LA District owns and operates 17 dams across California, Arizona and Nevada that reduce the risk of flooding for about 7 million people and $200 billion in property. The dams are reviewed periodically and rated according to the age and condition of the dam and potential consequences. The District’s dams range from low to very high urgency of action. Routine operation, maintenance and inspection activities are performed to ensure the dams perform as designed.

Clogged outlet at the Mojave River Dam — San Bernardino County, Southern California. logged by tree trunks due to a strong El Niño, in 2005.
Clogged outlet at the Mojave River Dam — San Bernardino County, Southern California. logged by tree trunks due to a strong El Niño, in 2005.

Flood-risk management is a shared responsibility among federal, state and local agencies and the general public. The Corps is actively coordinating with its partners and conducting public outreach as interim risk-management strategies.

“We’re working closely with San Bernardino County, Apple Valley, Victorville, Hesperia and other downstream agencies to improve flood-risk awareness and emergency preparedness,” said Kristen Bedolla, Dam Safety Program manager for the LA District. “Community preparation also is a key component in reducing flood risk.”

Activities like preparing an emergency kit, registering mobile and other phones with the San Bernardino County Telephone Emergency Notification System for emergency alerts, creating an evacuation plan and establishing a family emergency communication plan can save lives.

Bedolla and representatives with the LA District’s Emergency Management Office conducted a Dam Safety Seminar of the Mojave River Dam July 18 in Hesperia. The seminar was attended by federal, state, county and city emergency managers and responders, school district representatives and congressional staff.

About Mojave River Dam

The Mojave River Dam is an un-gated flood control structure, located at the northern side of the San Bernardino Mountains, just downstream of the confluence of the West Fork Mojave River and Deep Creek. The confluence of these two streams form the mainstem of the Mojave River. The entire river basin comprises about 4,700 square miles, of which 95 percent is desert. However, the 215 square miles of drainage area upstream of the dam consists of mountainous terrain and contributes to the majority of the surface water that reaches the Mojave River.

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