Alternative to Mentone Dam Aimed at Objections to River Flood Control Work

Times Staff Writer

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday released an alternative plan for part of the Santa Ana River flood control project that would shave more than $200 million off the cost of the massive project and resolve local objections to the proposed Mentone Dam that have stymied its approval.

The draft study by the corps’ Los Angeles district recommends substituting a dam about four miles upstream on the Upper Santa Ana River for the Mentone Dam site in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. The proposed Upper Santa Ana River Dam, at $304 million, would protect Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties from devastating floods, while eliminating environmental and aesthetic objections to the $530-million Mentone Dam that threatened the entire project.

If approved, the proposal could result in a $50-million to $70-million savings to Orange County, which would bear 95% of the project’s local share of costs, said Jim McConnell, the county’s lobbyist in Washington.

“This preserves the coalition of the three counties that we’ve built in support of the project and which was threatened by the Mentone Dam controversy,” McConnell said Monday.


Same Protection Level

“It means we still get virtually the same level of (flood) protection that would have been afforded by Mentone--and we get it at a nice cost savings. When you are talking about local government sharing 25% to 35% of the costs . . . that’s very significant to Orange County.”

Riverside and San Bernardino area congressmen withheld comment pending staff review of the proposal. But Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-San Bernardino) said Monday he was pleased to hear the plan was being favorably received by the most ardent opponents of the Mentone Dam proposal.

San Bernardino County Supervisor Barbara Riordan said the corps’ draft study “really has resolved those problems we had been so worried about previously . . . I think it will go a long way (toward) getting final authorization of the project.”


Residents of communities surrounding the proposed Mentone Dam site had opposed the dam because it would block water from filtering into underground water basins and because it is close to the San Andreas Fault. In addition, it would be a concrete barrier that would be dry most of the year and provide no recreational advantage to offset its unsightliness, Riordan said.

The new dam would be built on bedrock across the narrower Government Canyon channel. The 550-foot rock- and earth-filled dam would hold up to 160,000 acre-feet of water and, when full, would create a three-mile reservoir.

Riordan said local officials in Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties have reacted favorably to the new proposal.

Concerns May Be Met

“Those agencies and boards of supervisors that had originally opposed the Mentone Dam site, located between Redlands and East Highland, have not only changed their position but changed it to one of very strong support for the alternative site,” Riordan said.

An aide to Rep. George E. Brown (D-Riverside) said a perusal of the draft study and reaction of local officials suggests that most of the congressman’s concerns may be met by the plan.

Brown had sought and won elimination of $4 million in funding for project engineering studies in a House appropriations bill, partly out of fear that the entire $1.3-billion project would be authorized without a solution to the Mentone Dam question. However, he was reportedly also trying to get back at Orange County GOP congressman William E. Dannemeyer of Fullerton for actively campaigning for Brown’s opponent in the 1984 election.

Rep. Vic Fazio (D-Sacramento), who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, said Monday that he and Brown will agree to restore the $4 million for continuing engineering studies when the Senate and House confer next week to resolve differences in the two versions of the appropriations bill.


Rep. Lewis also indicated that if the new alternative to Mentone Dam is accepted, it could pave the way for the long-awaited authorization of the project late this year or early in 1986.