Context

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) completed construction of the Whittier Narrows Dam in 1957. The dam is designed to assist with flood control and water conservation; however, over the years, the dam has become structurally unsafe and at risk of failing in the event of a severe storm. The federal government has identified the Whittier Narrows Dam as the highest priority of the 13 highest risk dams in the United States. 

Dam failure could cause massive flooding of up to 25 cities in the surrounding region, from Pico Rivera to Long Beach, and such flooding could result in disastrous consequences including loss of life, damage to property, and major environmental and economic impacts. 

To repair the dam and prevent catastrophic failures, the USACE will be completing the Whittier Narrows Dam Safety Modification Project (Project). Funded by the federal government, the $385 million, multiyear effort is expected to complete construction in 2026. To date, Congress has approved the allocation of $192.5 million to the project through the Energy and Water Appropriations Bill. The remaining balance will be allocated in future federal budgets on a year-to-year basis.

Project Details

The Whittier Narrows Dam is currently at risk of failing in the following ways:

  1. Backward erosion of the dam’s foundation
  2. Overtopping
  3. Premature opening of the spillway gates

The anticipated repairs include but are not limited to addressing the internal erosion of the foundation and building a new compacted concrete filler to prevent overflowing at the top of the dam.

Community Impacts

Since 1956, the City of Pico Rivera has leased federal land around the project area to provide recreation facilities for the community. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the Project, several of these recreation facilities that have become integral to the Pico Rivera lifestyle will be partially or entirely out of service during and upon the project’s completion.

As a net result of these changes, the City will be losing approximately 67% of its available recreational acreage. Exacerbating this social injustice and inequity is that the City of Pico Rivera already had some of the fewest park land per resident ratios in Los Angeles County. There may be an opportunity for some of these federally-owned areas to again be leased by the City of Pico Rivera for recreational use by the community once the project is complete; however, these negotiations are ongoing with the USACE.

PICO RIVERA GOLF CLUB

STREAMLAND PARK

BICENTENNIAL PARK & PICO RIVERA SPORTS ARENA

SAN GABRIEL RIVER BIKE PATH

ROSEMEAD BLVD. & LINCOLN AVE.

City Efforts to Collaborate with Federal Government

Beyond the tragic loss of vital parks, the City of Pico Rivera and its concessionaires will also lose a wide range of quality jobs and essential revenue streams from rent, admissions, parking, merchandise and concession sales, advertising, sales taxes, and more. The Project will also impact local roads and bikeways, businesses, and residents near the project site. Although it’s difficult to assign a dollar figure to the cultural significance and historic value of these regional assets, the City has quantified the overall impacts at $125 million.

The City of Pico Rivera cannot continue to endure the disproportionate impacts of this Project without federal support. In a genuine plea for help, the City is requesting an initial $50 million from the federal government to strategically address and mitigate impacts that directly correspond with the Whittier Narrows Dam Project. The City has identified a portfolio of projects and programs that offer a meaningful and substantive approach to establish a healthy ecosystem that protects from floods; ensures safe drinking water; replaces the loss of parks and open space; restores natural habitats; enables new and long-lasting economic activity, and promotes a wholesome quality of life in the region. This includes:

  • $10 million in seed funding to develop and help implement a comprehensive community and economic revitalization master plan for the Rio Hondo and the San Gabriel River in the City of Pico Rivera

  • $25 million to help build five new water treatment facilities that will adequately abate contamination and ensure safe drinking water for the sub-region

  • $15 million to formally plan and implement the foundational infrastructure to accommodate smart and vibrant growth along three regionally-significant commercial corridors in the City – Washington Boulevard, Rosemead Boulevard and Whittier Boulevard

The City is confident that by working together, we can realistically address the many concerns and issues outlined here while simultaneously putting this part of the region on a path to thrive long-term.

Letters and Other Resources