Global Awareness conference speaks on worldwide water issues

Expert warns community on potential Los Angeles flooding 

By Ivan Cazares

Los Angeles residents are accustomed to the occasional earthquake drill but likely don’t consider flooding a real threat, something that can prove disastrous, Humberto Gallegos said. Gallegos, an East Los Angeles College professor, spoke during a conference focused on social issues related to water on Friday in E3. He shared the work of ELAC students who conducted a case study of the Baldwin Hills dam break in 1963. The students work included a computer- generated simulator which was also used to simulate future floods including, a plausible flood along the northern part of the Los Angeles river. 

There are 11 dams managed by Los Angeles County, two of which, the Pardo dam in Riverside County and Whittier Narrows Dam, have have been categorized as “high urgency” by the U.S. Corps of Engineers, meaning they are in need of major maintenance. A report published by the corps in May suggests that 1.4 million people living in the 29 cities downstream could be affected in the case of a failure of its spillway. 

“These structures are old. The Whittier Narrows Dam is almost 70 years old. We know they are likely to fail, but most people don’t think of the possibility of floods because it almost never rains here,” Gallegos said. “A lot of what science is is collecting data. We’re just adding to the database. If you add something unique to the database you might even end up winning a Nobel prize.” 

Gallegos said updating the structures to resist earthquakes and major storms would be incredibly expensive, costing the state millions of dollars. He said a more practical and immediate action that should be taken is informing and preparing the public. Gallegos said a majority of the public is unfamiliar with the state of water infrastructure in the county.

“The Los Angeles river for example is under designed. We know it is because it comes close to flooding even during average storms. Nobody thinks about the ark storm. We think about the quakes because we feel them,” Gallegos said. An ark storm is a hypothetical mega storm backed by scientific research and historical data.   

In a press release published in May, a U.S. Corps of Engineers announced that modification of the existing spillway will begin in 2021. 

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