Forest Service demolishes Silverado Canyon dams despite protests

Darrell Vance of the U.S. Forest Service crouches along a bank overlooking a vintage dam and swimming hole in Orange County's Silverado Canyon, which is scheduled for demolition.
(Louis Sahagun / Los Angeles Times)

Officials continued their plans Wednesday to demolish 10 dams throughout the Santa Ana mountains, starting with three along Silverado Creek.

About a dozen community members protested the Orange County demolition Tuesday and Wednesday near the Maple Springs Visitor Center, authorities said.

Residents and visitors say the dams in Silverado Canyon create beloved swimming holes, and they don’t want to see the area and wildlife disrupted by razed debris. But biologists have captured animals to relocate them, and demolition blasts will go no farther than about 50 feet, said Cleveland National Forest spokeswoman Olivia Walker.


On Tuesday, the Forest Service compromised with protesters: Instead of demolishing five dams along Silverado Creek, they’ll leave two alone — for now.

“Our goal is ecological restoration,” said Darrell Vance, the agency’s Trabuco District ranger. “But it sounds like those swimming holes are more important to folks around here than the dams themselves.

“Eventually, those dams will have to come down too,” he added. “In the meantime, we’re going to try and figure out a way to keep those swimming holes intact after the dams are gone.”

The other dams the agency is demolishing this month are in Holy Jim and San Juan creeks.

The dams, which range from 12-feet high and 60-feet wide to 4-feet high and 30-feet wide, were built between the 1940s and the 1970s and weren’t meant to be permanent, Walker said. They initially were used for fishing and to “provide a source of water, which is obviously not needed anymore,” she said.

They’ve sat unmaintained for decades and prevent wildlife like steelhead trout and toads from traveling upstream, she said.

“They serve zero purpose,” Walker said.

Ed Amador, president of the nonprofit Canyon Land Conservation Fund, called the demolition “a tragic event” for the arroyo toads that are supposed to breed in the area.

But Walker said he is misinformed. “There are no arroyo toads that live there. We’re actually destroying these dams so that arroyo toads can live there.”

Times staff reporter Louis Sahagun contributed to this report.