EOTW# 9: The St Francis Dam Disaster

For this week, we are going to explore a human+geology caused disaster to bring awareness to the issues we can have when dealing with large-scale infrastructure as well.

On March 12th 1928 at approximately 11:58 PM, the St Francis dam om California failed, resulting in a ~5.5 hour-long flood through the Santa Paula-Ventura area in California. More than 400 people died during the resulting flood. The St Francis dam was built in San Francisquito canyon to hold water that was running through the California Aqueduct from the Owens Valley. The dam was approximately 205 feet high  and spanned 1225 feet along its crest and 150 feet at its base across a narrow spot in the valley and canyon. The dam was 160 feet thick. The dam construction was overseen by William Mullholland, who at the time was one of the architects of the massive growth of Los Angeles – made possible in large measure by the piping of water from the Owens Valley and other parts of California, to the growing and thirsty town. While he had worked on another dam (Mulholland dam), Mulholland was essentially a “self-taught” civil engineer. The dam failure is considered one of the worst civil-engineering disasters in US history. The failure was originally thought to have resulted from issues with the dam’s foundation. More recent work indicates that the ground beneath the dam also played a role, in the form of water-saturation re-mobilizing an old landslide structure (see quote below for more details*).

For this week’s assignment, read the following Smithsonian Magazine article that explains the history leading up to, during, and following the disaster and answer a couple questions: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/occasions-i-envy-dead-st-francis-dam-disaster-180954543/?page=1

1) How much water was released during the dam failure?

2) How were people downstream warned of the coming flood, once people realized what was happening?

3) Take a little tour in Google Earth in the region, by searching for St Francis Dam.  From your search, can you figure out how the water is now stored in this region to serve LA?

Related image

Photo from http://archive.signalscv.com/archives/146899/

*”Although opinions vary, more recent and more thorough investigations assign the ultimate failure mode to weakening of the left abutment foundation rock due to the saturated condition created by the reservoir which essentially re-activated a large landslide that combined with a destabilizing uplift force on the main dam caused failure to initiate at the dam’s left end. In quick succession as catastrophic failure was occurring at the left end, the maximum height section tilted and rotated which destabilized the right end of the main dam causing catastrophic failure at the right end as well.” (http://damfailures.org/case-study/st-francis-dam-california-1928/)

Additional Resources and Sources of information for the post:

http://waterandpower.org/museum/St.%20Francis%20Dam%20Disaster.html

https://scvhistory.com/scvhistory/stfrancis.htm

http://damfailures.org/case-study/st-francis-dam-california-1928/

14 thoughts on “EOTW# 9: The St Francis Dam Disaster”

  1. 1) How much water was released during the dam failure?
    The Dam contained 12.6 billion gallons of water that water that were released into the valley, and destroyed whatever stood in its way.
    2) How were people downstream warned of the coming flood, once people realized what was happening?
    At first, people thought the rumbling of the Dam breaking and releasing its water was just a common earthquake, so not much was thought of it initially. Many people in its path died, however some efforts were made to warn people of the coming flood. Telephone operators known as “Hello Girls” phoned ahead to low lying areas to tell residents of what was coming their way. In addition, California Highway Patrol Officers were riding up and down with their sirens on in areas expected to be impacted to wake people up and warn them during the middle of the night.
    3) Take a little tour in Google Earth in the region, by searching for St Francis Dam. From your search, can you figure out how the water is now stored in this region to serve LA?
    The location where the St. Francis Dam once was is now a pile of rubble with no dam at its location. However, in nearby canyons I see other dams, including the Castaic Dam, the Piru Damn, and Bouquet Dam. I assume these are still the main places that water is stored, however, on the valley floor I also see other smaller reservoirs being used to store water.

  2. 1) How much water was released during the dam failure? When the St. Francis Dam disaster occurred, 12.6 billion gallons of water roared through the canyon and valley destroying everything in its path.
    2) How were people downstream warned of the coming flood, once people realized what was happening? It was around midnight when the disaster occurred and most people were sleeping. The first areas hit were without any warning. The first warnings to people in its path further down didn’t occur until around 1:20 a.m. The towns that had already been hit tried to get the word out to others in the path of the flooding. Telephone operators called residents and a couple of California Highway Patrol Officers were on motorcycles with their sirens to alert people in the path of the water.
    3) Take a little tour in Google Earth in the region, by searching for St Francis Dam. From your search, can you figure out how the water is now stored in this region to serve LA? It looks like another dam has been built to the west of the old dam site on Castaic Lake north of the town of Castaic, California. It is a V-shaped reservoir with the town of Castaic directly in the path in the event that another catastrophe was to occur.

  3. 1) How much water was released during the dam failure?
    12.6 billion gallons of water

    2) How were people downstream warned of the coming flood, once people realized what was happening?
    The dam officially collapsed at 11:58pm. First to go were Castaic and Piru. Sirens wailed desperate warnings as telephone operators called frantically ahead, trying to outrace the flood and waken as many people as they could. The wall of water slammed into Fillmore, devouring dozens of farmhouses. Motorcycle officers raced ahead to alert Santa Paula. Three hours after the break, the flood inundated the town, demolishing 300 homes.

    3) Take a little tour in Google Earth in the region, by searching for St Francis Dam. From your search, can you figure out how the water is now stored in this region to serve LA?
    There are several damns in the region, such as the Piru Dam and the Castaic Dam.

  4. 1) How much water was released during the dam failure?
    The St Francis dam was holding back 12.6 billion gallons of water, which was released during the dam’s failure.

    2) How were people downstream warned of the coming flood, once people realized what was happening?
    Warnings came from individuals in towns that had already been affected by the floodwaters. Female telephone operators called and warned residents who lived in low-laying areas while highway officers drove motorcycles through the streets to warn residents.

    3) Take a little tour in Google Earth in the region, by searching for St Francis Dam. From your search, can you figure out how the water is now stored in this region to serve LA?
    The St. Francis dam was reduced to rubble after it failed in 1928. To supply LA other dams like the Castaic and Piru dams were constructed.

  5. 1) How much water was released during the dam failure?

    12.6 billion gallons of water blew through the concrete.

    2) How were people downstream warned of the coming flood, once people realized what was happening?

    reminiscent of Paul Revere, it wasn’t the British, but a torrent of water that motorcycle driving highway patrolmen were warning residents of down stream Santa Paula, after telephone operators gave warning from already affected areas up stream.

    3) Take a little tour in Google Earth in the region, by searching for St Francis Dam. From your search, can you figure out how the water is now stored in this region to serve LA?

    even after the catastrophic dam collapse, there were hundreds of dams and reservoirs created up until 1978. Though the prominent dams seen on google earth are the Castaic and Piru dams.

  6. 1) How much water was released during the dam failure?
    ≈12.6 billion gallons
    2) How were people downstream warned of the coming flood?
    People were warned mostly with telephones, as well as sirens from police vehicles.
    3) Take a little tour in Google Earth in the region, by searching for St Francis Dam. From your search, can you figure out how the water is now stored in this region to serve LA?
    It looks like its stored in other dams around the area, mostly from the Castaic dam. The internet says much of the water for LA comes from northern cali, as well as the Colorado River.

  7. 1) How much water was released during the dam failure?

    Even though the dam was rated to hold 12 billion gallons, the dam broke with 12.4 billion gallons of water were released from the dam when it broke

    2) How were people downstream warned of the coming flood, once people realized what was happening?

    The people who on the ridges of the valley that the dam flood went down were unharmed so they used radio to warn the towns downstream. Alarms went off in the towns to warn people as fast as they could.

    3) Take a little tour in Google Earth in the region, by searching for St Francis Dam. From your search, can you figure out how the water is now stored in this region to serve LA?

    There was a reservoir lake/pond made a little down the valley from where St Francis Dam was made. Its called the Drinkwater reservoir. The Castaic dam and Piru dam must have also been made to replace the St. Francis Dam.

  8. The broken St. Francis Dam released over 12 billion gallons of water into the valley. The people downstream were warned about the flood from the actions of individuals like Louise Gipe and Reicel Jones, both telephone operators. Gipe called the California Highway Patrol, and in response to her message officer Thornton Edwards and Stanley Baker rode around the streets of Santa Paula and the surround area, waking and warning the residents to get to higher ground. Gipe and Jones continued to call the homes in the low laying area warning them of the incoming danger.

    The St. Francis Dam was not rebuilt after it burst, what lies there now is a pile of rubble. To the west of the past dam location is the Castaic Dam and Piru Dam, both have settlements down the valley from the dams.

  9. 1. How much water was released during the dam failure?

    A whopping 12.6 billion gallons.

    2. How were people downstream warned of the coming flood, once people realized what was happening?

    Over an hour after St. Francis Dam collapsed female telephone operators called residents in that “liquid avalanche’s” path of destruction to warn them. Law enforcement officers hurriedly made their rounds down streets, sirens blasting, warning residents.

    3. Take a little tour in Google Earth in the region, by searching for St Francis Dam. From your search, can you figure out how the water is now stored in this region to serve LA?

    St. Francis dam’s footprint consists of scattered rubble surrounding a mound of debris where the dam was built. I found a chart showing how California has water delivered. Aqueducts, man-made reservoirs, and flood channels appear to be the most common methods.

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/7/7c/Water_in_California_new.png

  10. 1) How much water was released during the dam failure?
    The damn had 12.6 billion gallons of water.
    2) How were people downstream warned of the coming flood, once people realized what was happening? Some residents heard the damn break,but didn’t know what happened. Unfortunately, a number of people in the direct path had no warning and were not able to make it out. Telephone calls were made and police drove around trying to alert residents with sirens.
    3) Take a little tour in Google Earth in the region, by searching for St Francis Dam. From your search, can you figure out how the water is now stored in this region to serve LA?
    It appears as though there are several damns in the area.

  11. There were 12,600,000 gallons of water released when the dam failed.

    The only ways in which the citizens downstream of the dam were warned was via telephone and a couple of police officers who ran their sirens to warn people.

    The nearest water storage facilities that seem to have taken the place of the St. Francis dam are the Piru dam and the Castaic dam.

  12. 1) How much water was released during the dam failure?
    Approximately.
    The damn held more that 12 billion gallons of water.

    2) How were people downstream warned of the coming flood, once people realized what was happening?
    The telephone operators Louise Gipe, and Reicel Jones called “Hello Girls,” called residents in low-lying areas.
    The California Thornton Edwards and Stanley Baker, California Highway Patrol officers, used sires and crisscrossed streets on their motorcycles to warm residents.

    3) Take a little tour in Google Earth in the region, by searching for St Francis Dam. From your search, can you figure out how the water is now stored in this region to serve LA?

    Looks like the Bouquet Reservoir is very close to this area as well as Fairmount Reservoir.
    However, according the LA County Water Resources department, the water that supplies the area comes from three places: local groundwater and water imported through the State Water Project (SWP) and the Colorado River Aqueduct (CRA).

  13. 1) How much water was released during the dam failure?

    12.6 Billion gallons

    2) How were people downstream warned of the coming flood, once people realized what was happening?
    The damn inspectors were mistaken that the leaking water was caused by construction of the damn and not a catastrophic failure.
    The people were mistaken of the rumbling. They assumed it was an earthquake. At midnight, the flood destroyed the town and then flowed into the pacific. No warning was given.

    3) Take a little tour in Google Earth in the region, by searching for St Francis Dam. From your search, can you figure out how the water is now stored in this region to serve LA?

    There were many more dams build in addition to the old dam being rebuilt. Major dams include: the Castaic and Piru dams.

  14. 1) Approximately 12 billion gallons of water was released.
    2) Most people did not get warning of the dam failure. People heard the dam break but reports say they assumed it was just an earthquake. Telephone calls were made and police ran their sirens but it was too late to effectively evacuate.
    3) The new dams that are closest to the St. Francis dam are the Castaic and Piru dams, which is likely where LA now receives it’s water.

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