Second phase of Schafer Dam project has begun

The expansion of Schafer Dam officially kicks off with shovels hitting the ground during a groundbreaking ceremony held at Lake Success

PORTERVILLE – The second phase of the Lake Success Schafer Dam project, aimed at reducing flooding and increasing water storage, began with a groundbreaking ceremony held by Congressman Kevin McCarthy.

The ceremony took place on Aug. 26, after a groundbreaking event for Phase I of the project did not happen in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s office used Phase II as a way to highlight the importance of the project and the congressman’s efforts to get the project started, which started with his introduction into office in 2013. Completion of the project is anticipated for late 2023.

“Today is not the end, it is the beginning of the end,” McCarthy said at the ceremony.

McCarthy said he hopes this project can be an example to other communities across California as a way to prevent another 30 year wait for lake widening projects that could increase water storage. He used the Shasta Lake dam, located in the northern end of Sacramento Valley, as an example of a lake that could benefit from additional water storage.

“If you just raise [Lake] Shasta a little bit, it can be six times the size of Lake Success,” McCarthy said. “And storing that water during wet years will help us during these dry years of drought.”

This expansion project will widen and raise the lake, which will increase the lake’s storage capacity as a water supply by 28,000 acre feet, and bring total storage of the supply to 110,000 acre feet. This includes adding a 10-foot-tall ogee weir to the dam, a wall-like concrete structure that widens the dam’s spillway.

“When we have a good snowpack, and we have good rainfall, we’re gonna be able to put 25% more water behind this dam,” Tulare County supervisor Dennis Townsend, whose district covers the dam, said.

By expanding the lake, there will be increased flood protection for the communities of Porterville and any other Tulare County community found below Schafer Dam. It will also protect over 400,000 acre feet of farmland that could be flooded in the case of an overtopping event, where water leaks over the dam. In the past, overtopping events at Lake Success, like the one that took place in spring 2019, have been treated by the Army Corps adding sandbags to the spillway as a way to prevent dam flooding and increase water storage capacity.

“Communities will be safer and have more opportunities for growth,” McCarthy said. “No more sandbags, just more water.”

Sources familiar with the project said that the process of getting funding for the project requires regulatory approvals to come first before funding can be received. Over the course of McCarthy’s seven years in office, he has been fighting to get money to fund this project since it was still in Phase I. 

In 2018, sources say McCarthy took the lead on getting the Bipartisan Budget Act passed, which was signed into law by former President Trump. The act provided $15 billion for Army Corps flood control construction projects. Once the money was secured in 2018, the congressman worked with the Army Corps of Engineers to get $50 million of the funding allocated for Phase I of the Schafer Dam project. They worked together again to receive an additional $73 million, which brings the total cost of the project to about $135.5 million, with additional minor administrative fees. 

The enlargement process was originally authorized by Congress in 1999. Construction on a small component of the project began in 2003 but during the process, the Army Corps of Engineers found safety issues with the dam. The project was put on hold for roughly over a decade as the Army Corps ensured the dam was safe. When it was deemed safe, they restarted the project. The congressman’s office ran into some regulatory difficulties about project cost, ratio, benefits and regulatory red tape, or rules and formalities the Army Corps needed to work through. 

When the Bipartisan Budget Act passed, the congressman’s office ensured to include language in the law that would make it easier to avoid any regulatory chokeholds when it comes to flood control projects. As they were working through the regulatory hurdles, Congress decided the projects were important and they needed to move forward with them.

The Schafer Dam, formerly known as Success Dam and Reservoir, was originally authorized as a part of the Tule River Project by Congress in 1944 under the Flood Control Act. The construction on the initial dam was finished in 1961. 

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