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Rains worsen San Diego's most dangerous dam

Lake Hodges reservoir near Rancho Santa Fe built in 1918

The water level had to be lowered about 18 feet.
The water level had to be lowered about 18 feet.

Lake Hodges Dam has received the state's worst possible safety rating, leaving the city with another delay in making repairs some say are decades overdue.

Last month, the state's Division of Safety of Dams downgraded its condition from poor to unsatisfactory due to seismic issues, rating the hazard "extremely high." The 105-year-old city dam is at the end of its lifespan. The discovery of new defects are outpacing the city's ability to make repairs.

Over 10 percent of dam failures occur when dams are 100 years or older.

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Since Hodges Dam was built on the San Dieguito River in 1918, homes, roads and businesses have arrived, and climate change keeps upping the threat to communities below the dam like Solana Beach and Rancho Santa Fe. An "extremely high" hazard rating is given when the population at risk is 1,000 persons or more.

Hodges reservoir impounds drinking water to serve the city of San Diego, the San Dieguito Water District, Santa Fe Irrigation District and San Diego County Water Authority.

Lake Hodges inundation map

Other San Diego water supply dams that have been downgraded since 2019 - when Hodges went from Fair to Poor – include the high-hazard dams at El Capitan and Morena reservoirs, now restricted to holding less than half their capacities, and the dam at Lower Otay Reservoir, which has not been restricted.

The city has been working on repairs since last May – efforts they hoped would prevent the downgrading. Instead, the state called for emergency repairs, and a lowering of the reservoir to 280 feet to protect surrounding communities in the event of dam failure.

Ongoing repairs included defects in the upstream face of the dam wall that needed sealing. To make repairs, the water level of the reservoir had to be lowered about 18 feet which in August revealed a new problem: a hole. Then they found more cracks and concrete defects that extended the timeline, closure of recreation and lowered water levels.

According to the city, their own assessments and consultation with the California Division of Safety of Dams show Hodges is not a safety threat because the reduced water level and lower volume relieves pressure on the dam. Because of recent heavy rains, the city has been releasing water and monitoring the levels daily.

"Hodges Dam remains safe with the water level below its maximum water level."

Problems with the ailing dam go beyond public safety. Closure of the lake has put a halt to boating and other recreation the reservoir is known for and angered customers of the Santa Fe Irrigation District, who on April 1 faced a rate hike.

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The water level had to be lowered about 18 feet.
The water level had to be lowered about 18 feet.

Lake Hodges Dam has received the state's worst possible safety rating, leaving the city with another delay in making repairs some say are decades overdue.

Last month, the state's Division of Safety of Dams downgraded its condition from poor to unsatisfactory due to seismic issues, rating the hazard "extremely high." The 105-year-old city dam is at the end of its lifespan. The discovery of new defects are outpacing the city's ability to make repairs.

Over 10 percent of dam failures occur when dams are 100 years or older.

Sponsored
Sponsored

Since Hodges Dam was built on the San Dieguito River in 1918, homes, roads and businesses have arrived, and climate change keeps upping the threat to communities below the dam like Solana Beach and Rancho Santa Fe. An "extremely high" hazard rating is given when the population at risk is 1,000 persons or more.

Hodges reservoir impounds drinking water to serve the city of San Diego, the San Dieguito Water District, Santa Fe Irrigation District and San Diego County Water Authority.

Lake Hodges inundation map

Other San Diego water supply dams that have been downgraded since 2019 - when Hodges went from Fair to Poor – include the high-hazard dams at El Capitan and Morena reservoirs, now restricted to holding less than half their capacities, and the dam at Lower Otay Reservoir, which has not been restricted.

The city has been working on repairs since last May – efforts they hoped would prevent the downgrading. Instead, the state called for emergency repairs, and a lowering of the reservoir to 280 feet to protect surrounding communities in the event of dam failure.

Ongoing repairs included defects in the upstream face of the dam wall that needed sealing. To make repairs, the water level of the reservoir had to be lowered about 18 feet which in August revealed a new problem: a hole. Then they found more cracks and concrete defects that extended the timeline, closure of recreation and lowered water levels.

According to the city, their own assessments and consultation with the California Division of Safety of Dams show Hodges is not a safety threat because the reduced water level and lower volume relieves pressure on the dam. Because of recent heavy rains, the city has been releasing water and monitoring the levels daily.

"Hodges Dam remains safe with the water level below its maximum water level."

Problems with the ailing dam go beyond public safety. Closure of the lake has put a halt to boating and other recreation the reservoir is known for and angered customers of the Santa Fe Irrigation District, who on April 1 faced a rate hike.

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