Kern Kounty Katastrophe

Steve's picture

I’ve blogged before about dam break disasters.  If you have interest in ‘natural’ hazards like I do, dam break floods always draw because:

(1) There are so many potential candidates out there.  Something like 80,000 dams exist in the USA.  Go worldwide and the number multiplies to 850,000. Untold millions of people live and work under the influence of one of those things. Often the culprits are far from mind, lurking out of sight in distant hills.

(2) Impounded water holds an astounding amount of gravitational energy.  Anybody who has ever carried two gallons of milk up five flights of stairs can attest to the work involved. Drop those two gallons out a fifth floor window and all that energy returns with a vengeance.  Down below -- Krushed Kadillacs and Kracked Kraniums.

The water in even a moderate size reservoir contains energy equal to millions of tons of TNT.  As if dozens of WWII era atomic bombs are stationed behind each of those 850,000 dams waiting for post time. In a major dam failure, if only a fraction of that energy expends against homes and property you’ve got Kommunities Kurtailed in a Kostly Kalamity.

One case of special note is Lake Isabella, Kern Kounty, err.... County.  The reservoir locates, 65 km north east and 700 m higher than Bakersfield California, population ~360,000.  Lake Isabella’s two dams are earth fill structures built 1948 to 1953.  Thought to be inactive at construction time, the Kern Canyon Fault runs directly under the auxiliary dam. Partly on this account, Lake Isabella is called by some “The most dangerous dam in California”.  

I’ve put together this YouTube movie that backgrounds the Lake Isabella story and simulates a dam break flood.  It certainly would make a bad day for many thousands of Bakersfieldians.

OK, maybe you are lucky enough not to live in the potential wake of a dam failure. Still, when cruising city streets, I’d peel eyes to fifth floor windows for plummeting gallons of two percent.  Kaution!


Steven N. Ward   Santa Cruz


Francis88's picture

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