San Gabriel Dam opened for tests

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San Gabriel Dam operator Herbert Romero led 16 engineers clad in hard hats and yellow vests down a long flight of metal stairs on Wednesday to a cast-iron wheel on a ledge overlooking a streambed a few miles above Azusa.

At 9 a.m., he turned the wheel, opening one of the 123-inch valves. The ground rumbled and water roared forth in a horizontal stream more than 200 feet long, as if from a mammoth rocket engine.


The biannual release of water at a rate of 4,000 cubic feet a second was needed to ensure that the earth-and-rock dam, tall as a 25-story building, would be able to control rampaging floods out of the San Gabriel Mountain’s 200-square-mile watershed.

Romero smiled as torrents of water laden with sediment exploded onto the concrete spillway below. “The test results are excellent,” he said. “We’re ready for the storms.”

As he spoke, the engineers admired the view from a railing under an austere inscription carved into the face of the dam: Los Angeles County Flood Control District. Outlet Tunnel. San Gabriel Dam No. 1. 1933.

-- Louis Sahagun