Bureau of Reclamation commences 120th Anniversary with groundbreaking of B.F. Sisk Dam seismic safety project

On June 23, 2022 by Ana M. Valdovinos, Reporter
Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tanya Trujillo, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton, California Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth, California-Great Basin Regional Director Ernest Conant, and California State Water Resources Control Board Vice Chair Dorene D’Adamo and others turn shovels of dirt for the ceremonial groundbreaking to begin construction on the B.F. Sisk Dam seismic project on Friday, June 17, 2022. Photo by Ana Valdovinos

Held at San Luis Reservoir during 6oth anniversary year of President Kennedy’s appearance to start dam construction in 1962

Will not increase water storage capacity, could take 10 years

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) commenced their 120th anniversary on June 17, 2022, at San Luis Reservoir with a groundbreaking for the B.F. Sisk Dam Modification Seismic Safety Plan project. The day also recognizedthe 60th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy stepping foot on top of the hill on August 18, 1962, to begin construction of the massive dam project that continues to benefit the Central Valley’s people, agriculture, wildlife refuges and waterways to this day. The safety project is Reclamation’s most monumental since the 1978 Safety of Dams Act. The billion-dollar endeavor received an investment of $100 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law signed by President Biden earlier this year. Reclamation will be reconstructing the B.F. Sisk Dam and many others for seismic events and to minimize any risk to the public. (See related articles here and here)

Speakers for the event included Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton, Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tanya Trujillo, Reclamation California-Great Basin Regional Director Ernest Conant, California Department of Water Resources Karla Nemeth, and California State Water Resources Control Board Vice Chair Dorene D’Adamo.

The event helped “kick off a years’ worth of celebration with the Bureau’s legacy of managing water of the west,” said Touton. “The work being done here funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is emblematic of our commitment of modernizing water infrastructure. So, it is fitting to break ground here once again and to invest in our infrastructure and in the future of California.” 

Established in 1902 by President Theodore Roosevelt’s administration and renamed in 1923, the Bureau of Reclamation continues to reliably deliver clean water and power to meet multiple requests and adapt to public needs. The Bureau maintains 487 dams, manages 338 reservoirs, and operates 53 hydroelectric powerplants. Delivering more than 10 trillion gallons of water to about 31 million American people. 

While remaining optimistic about the historic drought and the hardships of California due to climate change, Commissioner Touton and the USBR bring contemporary resources to the Central Valley. The B.F. Sisk Modification Project stands as an example for that. This $100 Million project will add safety features and critical water supply deliveries for farmers, ranchers, and wildlife refuges. Also, helping the system better adapt to the changing climate.

Assistant Secretary of Water and Science Tanya Trujillo, Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Touton, California Department of Water Resources Director Karla Nemeth, California-Great Basin Regional Director Ernest Conant, and California State Water Resources Control Board Vice Chair Dorene D’Adamo and others turn shovels of dirt for the ceremonial groundbreaking to begin construction on the B.F. Sisk Dam seismic project on Friday, June 17, 2022. Photo by Ana Valdovinos

In March 2022, the Department of Interior publicized the $100 million investment in the B.F. Sisk Dam Modification project as part of the president’s infrastructure package for a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation’s infrastructure. The Infrastructure Law provides a total of $500 million available throughout the country for critical dam safety projects and B.F. Sisk is the first beneficiary. These projects must follow through to mitigate the changes in climate for the future hope of clean water.

“We must work together to secure a future in which adequate supply of water is a reality instead of a vision,” said Commissioner Touton. 

“We are standing on the shoulders of so many leaders of a previous generation who thought about California’s future, had a vision for a California’s future and executed on that,” said DWR Nemeth. “An extreme drought that is really on the road to a different climate for the western United States, and herein California.”

The water in the San Luis Reservoir serves the communities around it. The safety plan will provide clean water for everyone in the Valley. It will bring good jobs to the region, and it really shows the investment of our infrastructure to continue supporting the industries here and the agriculture

Source: USBR

“This project symbolizes the state working with the Federal Government, the local communities working with the state, this program is unique. There is no other project in the history of the United States where a state has put such a large contribution to the development of its own resources, and where the national government has joined with the State. This has brough your state to be the pioneer in the United States in the field of development and conservation of our natural resources. California, in this area, is number one and it has helped make possible the San Luis project which joins all of us together as co- and equal partners.” President John F. Kennedy at San Luis Dam Groundbreaking Ceremony, August 18, 1962. 

Source: USBR

“President Kennedy stated, ‘This project symbolizes the state working with the Federal government, the local community working with the state. This program is unique,’” said Regional Director Conant.

Asked how long the effort had been going for the project he responded, “It started about 15 years ago looking for the seismic problems to see if there was any. Then we figured out the problem and how to fix it.”

Conant is hoping for the project to be done before the 10-year mark. He has hopes to make the dam safer and modified quickly and efficiently before any large impact.

“The Safety of Dams project is rebuilding the dam and putting new material in the back of it then raising it. But it won’t store anymore water,” Conant added.

Source: USBR

Henry Garcia, the Project Manager who will be doing the hard, tedious work, shared about increasing the height of the dam.

“In order to raise the dam by 10 feet, we need to work on the downstream section, the slope wash area,” he stated. “We’ll need to excavate the bad material that we aren’t satisfied with and build it back. There is a section of spillway that is exposed. We are going to create a tunnel and put material over that. The reason is there is another slope wash that is much bigger on the other side of the first spill way.”

“That is the first three years of construction alone out of 10 years,” said Garcia. “After the first three contracts are completed, the fourth contract will be the additional 10-foot raise.”

The years of 2017-18 were the last time that the spillway overflowed, he shared. The benefits of the total 20-foot increase in the dam’s height will be additional water storage for the downstream.

California Department of Water Resources spokesperson, Maggie Macias was asked if the 20-foot expansion will allow for storing any additional water and not just a safety measure. She responded, “The groundbreaking event on June 17th was for the Sisk Dam Safety of Dams Modification Project that will modernize the dam to reduce seismic risk by including downstream shear keys and buttress as well as raising the dam to add extra freeboard to address settlement that could occur in the event of a major earthquake. This project does not include increasing the reservoir’s capacity (water storage).”

“There is another project that the Bureau of Reclamation is currently studying. It is the B.F. Sisk Raise and Reservoir Expansion Project,” Macias explained. “This expansion project is being investigated by the Bureau and might include a 10-foot raise and increase in reservoir capacity.”

Additional information for the project can be found here: https://sldmwa.org/sisk-project/

A reception following Friday’s groundbreaking ceremony was then held for those in attendance at the Romero Visitor Center.

See video of President Kennedy’s speech at the 1962 groundbreaking, pushing the plungers with Governor Pat Brown to explode the dynamite (see 20-minute mark) and the governor’s speech (see 26-minute mark), here

See brief video on history of the B.F. Sisk Dam with USBR’s Principal Deputy Regional Director Richard Welsh, here.

Source: USBR

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