BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — The Isabella Lake Dam, located about 40 miles from Bakersfield, became fully operational in 1953.
But for the last four years, crews have focused on correcting weaknesses important in improving safety.
In the early 2000’s a study found several failures and since 2018 crews have been making major improvements to the existing dams.
“The modification existed of excavating the emergency spillway, building the weir, and using that material to improve the two dams that are adjacent to the labyrinth weir,” said Victor Ozuna, Engineer for the Lake Isabella Dam Safety Modification Project.
The dams are located between Lake Isabella and the Kern River. The purpose of the project is to address the risks of water overtopping the dam, seeping through the embarkment, and an active fault line that Ozuna said is located under the dam.
“The dam is holding back water in the lake, and if the dams weren’t there then the water would flow down the canyon,” said Floyd Bolton, Deputy Resident Engineer for the Isabella Dam Safety Modification Project
Engineers Victor Ozuna and Floyd Bolton said crews are working on phase 2 of the improvements.
Including raising the main and smaller dam on the other side of the lake by 16 feet, using crushed rock from the site, adding a filter and drain on the downstream slope of both dams to create stability, and creating an additional 300-foot-wide emergency spillway and increasing its stability.
“In the event the fault zone moves, we put enough material in the dam embankment that while the dam will be affected, it will not fail.”
Ozuna said even though drought is causing lower water levels, it is important to prepare for unknown events.
“You never know what Mother Nature decides to do and were facing, our chances are increased given climate change.”
Ozuna adds the multimillion-dollar project will bring flood protection, increased water storage, and recreational benefits to the kern county community.
“I think the dam has brought in a lot of economic stimulus to the local area.”
“Once the dam modifications are completed, that will allow us to impound more water in the lake which will improve recreational aspect of the lake.”
Phase 2 is expected to be completed later this year while phase 3 is expected to be completed within the next few years.