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Major work on Isabella Dam Safety Modification Project is complete

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and other Kern community leaders joined the US Army Corps of Engineers for a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the official completion of Phase 2 of the project.
isabella dam safety project ribbon cutting
Posted at 5:09 PM, Apr 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-04 23:06:28-04

LAKE ISABELLA, Calif. (KERO) — On Tuesday, House Speaker and California Congressman Kevin McCarthy joined the US Army Corps of Engineers and Kern County community leaders at a ribbon-cutting ceremony marking the official completion of Phase 2 of the Isabella Dam Safety Modification Project.

Phase 2, the core of the project, is where all the main repairs were made to reduce flood risk for downstream communities like Bakersfield, which as we know has been on many people's minds given the recent storms. Community members say they now feel safer and are happy to have their lake back.

McCarthy spoke at the ceremony, saying that the timing of this completion has been key, as flood safety and water storage have been concerns across California after the rain.

"It is important for everyone down below in Bakersfield that you are safe now, and we can store more water which we need in California, and this is the year we are getting the snowpack, so we are not wasting it," said McCarthy, adding, "Recreation. Come up to Lake Isabella and Kernville and you can have a beautiful time."

And that recreation is a big part of these mountain communities' culture.

"I moved here because of the lake, because I row and wind surf," said Lake Isabella resident and community liaison Eva Hollmann. "The lake is my life."

Hollmann says shortly after she moved here, the dam was placed at the top of a national list of dams in critical need of attention.

"We have to drain it, we have to build another dam, all kinds of terrible stories going on, and I decided because my whole soul was involved with the lake that I needed to get involved," said Hollmann

Hollmann says she began attending public meetings more than 10 years ago and became a voice for the community-led Lake Isabella Dam Task Force, communicating between resident concerns and project managers. Though she says it wasn't easy, it was worth it, because now they are able to hold all the water from the recent storms.

"We get our lake back. We get our recreational areas back," said Hollmann. "Oh yeah, this is huge."

Chariman of Sukut Construction Michael Crawford, who spoke at Tuesday's ribbon-cutting, discussed the major effort required to make this repair project happen.

"We worked over 2.6 million man-hours," said Crawford.

All that work allowed for the main projects, like raising the auxiliary dam by 16 feet, constructing a new emergency spillway with a labyrinth weir, and adding filters and drains to address the earthquake, seepage, and water overtopping concerns.

The main concern now is that the snow is melting. Lead engineer for the Dam Safety Project Michael Ruthford says the team is looking into that.

"Our grosspool is about 568,000 acre feet. We are going to get very close to that and maybe just a little bit over," said Ruthford.

If the water does go over the dam, Ruthford says it will not be enough to get over the labyrinth weir, only the service spillways, which was made specifically to deal with snowpack melt like the corps is expecting, easing those concerns of water going over the labyrinth weir.

The project will now move on to Phase 3, which consists of constructing a new operations building for the US Army Corps of Engineers who will be permanently working at the dam, as well as a visitor center in Lake Isabella, which will be administered by the US Forest Service.