The Division of Safety of Dams 80th Anniversary Bill Fraser Elissa Lynn

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The Division of Safety of Dams 80th Anniversary

Bill Fraser
Elissa Lynn: Welcome to the DWR Aquacast, a short podcast produced by the Department of Water Resources. It starts with a question, and we get the answer from the experts here at DWR. Sit back and enjoy the sound stream.
Zack Cunningham: Thanks for tuning in to the Aquacast. Once again I’m Zack Cunningham, and today I’m here with Bill Fraser, Chief of the Geology Branch here at the Division of Safety of Dams. Thanks for joining me Bill.
Bill Fraser: My pleasure, Zack.
Zack Cunningham: Well, the reason we’re talking today is because the DSOD recently turned 80 years old, on August 14th, is that correct?
Bill Fraser: That’s correct.
Zack Cunningham: So what led to the DSOD’s creation so long ago in California’s history?
Bill Fraser: Well it resulted from a series of dam failures in the teens and 1920s. Two dams failed in 1916, and then an earthquake caused a dam failure in 1925, and after the St. Francis Dam failure in 1928, a very comprehensive dam safety law was passed which put the responsibility for the operation and maintenance of dams with the State Engineer.
Zack Cunningham: So the DSOD was created more than 30 years before the Department of Water Resources with which you’re now affiliated. Before DWR, where were you?
Bill Fraser: Well initially, the Dam Safety Office as it was called, was in the Department of Public Works. Then in 1956 when DWR was created, all water-related matters came under the Jurisdiction of our current department.
Zack Cunningham: Okay, so I imagine throughout the history of the DSOD, a lot of dams were built in California as opposed to now today not as many are being built.
Bill Fraser: That’s true Zack, during what’s called the post-war building boom of the years 1945 to 1965, California expanded rapidly and as many as 25 dams per year were built throughout the state. So it must have been an exciting time to work in dam safety. That would be compared to about 5 dams per year being built now.
Zack Cunningham: Okay, so as things have shifted from working on building new dams, to working on really ensuring the safety of existing dams, how have other things changed in the way that you guys do your job here at the DSOD now as opposed to 50 years ago?
Bill Fraser: Well, because of a couple events that occurred in the 1960’s and early 70’s, namely the Baldwin Hills dam failure and the near-failures of the San Fernando dams, we take a much closer look at seismic stability, and one of the major activities of the office today is to reevaluate the seismic stability of all dams throughout California.
Zack Cunningham: I’m sure with the state’s interesting water situation now with floods still being an option but also being in our third year of drought, and calls for more dams maybe in the future, it sounds like the DSOD will certainly have plenty of work in the future as well.
Bill Fraser: And we definitely play a big role in the water development throughout California. California needs a safe reliable water supply, and ensuring dam safety is an important component of that.
Zack Cunningham: And with the few dam failures we talked about today, there’s hundreds of dam successes: there’s many dams that have never failed and you guys have made sure that everything stays safe and with everything we’ve learned now being applied to newer dams, I imagine would make more safe dams.
Bill Fraser: Yes, it’s a very challenging activity and it’s very important.
Zack Cunningham: Bill, thanks for joining me joining me today to talk about the DSOD.
Bill Fraser: You’re welcome, Zack.

Elissa Lynn: Thanks for listening to the DWR Aquacast. Got a question for us? Send it to Maybe you’ll hear the answer on the next DWR Aquacast.

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