PG&E warning: Dams can break

But company is also assuring that sudden failure an unlikely event
By: Gus Thomson, Gold Country News Service
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PG&E open houses on

dam break preparation

Today: 5-8 p.m., Colfax City Hall, 33 South Main St.

Thursday, April 4: 5-8 p.m., Holiday Inn, 120 Grass Valley Hwy, Auburn

They’re Placer County’s sleeping giants and will likely stay that way.

But residents and businesses downstream of the Halsey Afterbay Dam in Christian Valley near Auburn and the Wise Forebay Dam in Auburn off Merry Knoll Road will be receiving brochures in the mail from Pacific Gas & Electric on being prepared for a dam break.

The safety campaign PG&E is taking part in involves mailing brochures to about 400 residences and businesses in Placer and Nevada counties within the potential flood inundation area below six dams. The other dams are the Spaulding Dam in Nevada County, the Drum Forebay Dam near Midas, the Lower Peak Main Dam near Soda Springs and the Rock Creek Dam in Auburn.

About 280 residences and businesses in Auburn will receive brochures and letters. Another 18 letters are going to Soda Springs residents, eight to Emigrant Gap addresses and four residences in Alta will get a brochure in the mail. Ninety-six will end up in mail boxes in the tiny community of Washington

PG&E officials are emphasizing that the risk of a dam break is minimal.

“Dams in the United States are very safe and dam failures are very rare,” said Mary Richardson, PG&E’s manager of public safety for power generation. “PG&E inspects and maintains its dams according to strict safety guidelines, ensuring structural integrity under normal and extreme conditions.”

Instead of a warning based on immediate concerns, the power provider’s message focuses on being aware of potential flooding and having an evacuation plan should a dam fail, Richardson said.

At Halsey Forebay, off Christian Valley Road, the dam was a picture of peacefulness, with several anglers trying their luck last week.

Dawn Pustizzi of Chicago Park, had already caught a couple of fish and said she saw the dam as an enjoyable spot for recreation, with easy access off the freeway – not a source of menace or fear.

“I don’t think there’s enough water here to cause a major problem,” Pustizzi said. “It’s pretty safe downstream.”

The safety campaign is a nationwide initiative by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for hydroelectric dam owners to better inform people downstream of dams. It’s not a reflection of dam conditions, Richardson said.

The brochures inform people in inundation zones that they could be hit by a wave of water before they receive notification by local emergency agencies. Residents and businesses are advised to take “quick action” after becoming aware of possible warning signs that include rapidly changing water conditions, increased water height and increased water speed.

If evacuation is required, residents in the inundation zone are being advised to have an emergency kit, know where an evacuation center is located and have an evacuation plan.

The mailing also includes information on open houses for anyone interested in learning more. The open houses will be held from 5-8 p.m. March 28 at Colfax City Hall, 33 South Main St., Colfax and April 4 at the Holiday Inn, 120 Grass Valley Highway, Auburn.

PG&E has 171 dams but only 27 of them require mailings to a total of about 1,000 customers. Most of the corporation’s dams are located in sparsely populated areas.