California’s BF Sisk Dam makes San Luis the nation’s largest downstream reservoir
It will “build water supply security for California communities, farmers and ranchers, and wildlife refuges” – Assistant Secretary for Water and Science Tanya Trujillo
WASHINGTON – The Department of the Interior announced in March that the Bureau of Reclamation was providing specific funding for a $100 million project to modify the BF Sisk Dam at San Luis Reservoir, west of Los Banos. The funding, authorized by the federal infrastructure package, was highlighted in an addendum to the Bureau’s initial spending plan for fiscal year 2022 funding allocations.
The Infrastructure Act provides $500 million to Reclamation over the next five years to support critical dam safety projects, streamline construction management, maintain operational capacity at Reclamation’s dams, and minimize risk to the public downstream. These investments underscore the administration’s commitment to developing longer-term measures to mitigate the drought.
“Critical funding…will further advance planned dam safety work at BF Sisk to reduce risk while preserving all of the benefits that the San Luis Dam and Reservoir currently provide,” Secretary Deb Haaland said. “This is the first of many projects that will benefit from these historic infrastructure investments.”
Construction of the BF Sisk Dam began in 1962. According to Cody White, archivist at the National Archives in DenverPresident John F. Kennedy stood atop a simple wooden stage 10 miles west of Los Banos, California on August 18, 1962, and said, ‘It is a pleasure for me to come here and help blow up this valley for the cause of progress.”
As he helped “depress the dynamite plunger located on the dais, Kennedy would officially trigger the eventual flooding of nearly 20 square miles of land”.
Completed in 1967, the dam retains the San Luis Reservoir, the largest downstream reservoir in the country, and provides additional storage of irrigation water and municipal and industrial water for the Central Valley Project and the California state water. In December 2019, Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources announced a partnership to move forward with a $1.1 billion seismic upgrade with the signing of a Record of Decision and Notice of determination.
The Dam Safety Project, the largest Reclamation project under the Dam Safety Act 1978, will add stability berms and other safety features to the existing 3.5 mile long earth dam . Increasing the height of the dam will reduce public safety concerns downstream by reducing the likelihood of overtopping should subsidence occur during a seismic event. Exploratory blasting at BF Sisk took place in 2020 in preparation for construction of the multi-year project which will begin in the summer of 2022.
“This investment in the BF Sisk Dam, located south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, will enhance water supply security for California communities, farmers and ranchers, and wildlife refuges,” said the Assistant Secretary. to water and science, Tanya Trujillo.
The construction is divided into three phases with a new contract for each phase. The Phase I contract award is scheduled for fiscal year 2022, using both bipartisan funding from the Dam Safety Infrastructure Act, as well as that provided in annual Reclamation appropriations.
Detailed information on the programs and financing provided for in the bipartite law on infrastructure, BIL’s expenditure plan for the 2022 financial year and documents from the stakeholder listening sessions are available at Reclamation Infrastructure Web Page. Information on the modification of the BF Sisk dam can be found at Reclamation BF Sisk Webpage.
See the Bureau of Reclamation and the San Luis & Delta Mendota Water Authority’s BF Sisk Dam and Reservoir Expansion Project Draft Environmental Impact Report and Supplementary Environmental Impact Statement.
Allen D. Payton contributed to this report.