Rep. Napolitano Presses Army Corps to Make Whittier Narrows Dam Their Highest Budgetary Priority

By on February 24, 2019

Due to the potential of massive flooding from a very large and rare storm, Rep. Grace F. Napolitano (D-32nd District-El Monte) has written the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers urging them to make the planning, design, and construction of dam safety repairs at Whittier Narrows Dam their highest budgetary priority. Although the Corps had already recently told local residents that the dam no longer met the federal agency’s tolerable-risk guidelines Rep. Napolitano’s letter urges the Corps to commit the significant funding needed to “expeditiously design and construct the dam safety repairs” in the FY20 Budget and Work Plan.

In a series of recent public hearings, Corps officials told local residents that the Whittier Narrows Dam no longer met the agency’s tolerable-risk guidelines. The dam is at risk of failure if seepage eroded the sandy soil beneath the dam or if water were to flow over the 60-year-old dam’s crest.

“As you know, although the likelihood of dam failure at Whittier Narrows is low, the dam was downgraded to Dam Safety Action Classification-1 (DSAC-1) due to recently identified flood risk concerns and the large population of downstream residents,” wrote Napolitano in her Feb. 20 letter to Ricky “R.D.” James, Assistant Secretary of the Army (Civil Works). “Millions of people live directly downstream of the dam, and the human and economic impact of possible dam failure due to potential seepage and hydrologic issues in an extremely rare weather event is unacceptable. I greatly appreciate that the Army Corps of Engineers has recognized this concern and given Whittier Narrows Dam the top priority in your dam safety program. I urge the Corps to provide significant funding in the forthcoming FY20 Budget and Work Plan to expeditiously design and construct the dam safety repairs.”

Napolitano, the Chairwoman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment — which has jurisdiction over the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — sent the letter to James after the two met last week to discuss the critical importance of the flood control project for Southern California and the nation.

Napolitano’s letter to James also stated her appreciation of the Corps’ attention to the situation thus far. “I thank the Corps for working with my office to get the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Whittier Narrows Dam Safety Modification Study released recently and for making Whittier Narrows the top priority for dam safety repair in the nation.  I appreciate the time you took last week to meet with me to discuss the safety of this extremely important flood control project in Los Angeles County.”

According to the Feb. 22 edition of the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, “Because of the potential of massive flooding, the Army Corps of Engineers is rushing to begin a $500-million repair project for the dam, classified as the highest priority of any of the 13 “high risk” dams in the country.”