Table of Dam Failures

There have been a total of 45 dam failures in California. Failures have occurred for a variety of reasons, the most common failure being overtopping. Other dams have failed due to specific shortcomings in the dam itself or an inadequate assessment of the surrounding geomorphologic characteristics. The first notable dam failure occurred in 1883 in Sierra County, while the most recent failure occurred in 1965. The greatest catastrophe relating to California dam failures was William Mulholland’s infamous St. Francis Dam, which failed in 1928. Overall, there have been a least 460 deaths from dam failures in California.

 

Dam

Location

Year

Constructed

Year

Failed

Type of

Dam

Cause of

Failure

Deaths

English

Sierra County

1858

1883

Rockfill

Dam crumbled to foundations, decay of timber used

-

Long Valley Creek

-

-

1892

-

Heavy rains, dam carried away by flood

-

Stephenson Creek

Fresno

-

1892

-

-

-

The Angels

Calaveras County

-

1895

Rubble masonry

Undermined during flood, poor foundation

1

Vernon Heights

Oakland

-

1896

Concrete

Shallow foundation

-

Snake Ravine

Stanislaus County

1893

1898

Hydraulic fill

Poor compaction

-

Lake Francis

Dobbins Creek

1899

1899

Hyde earth

Seepage along outlet conduit, top ruptured

-

Piedmont No.1

Oakland

1903

1905

Earth and concrete

Outlet pipe sheared off at core wall

-

San Andreas

-

1868

1906

Earth, rock, concrete

Crack along axis

-

Yuba River (old)

-

-

1907

Earth, hydraulic fill

Insufficient spillway during flood

-

Bishop Creek

Inyo County

1908

1909

-

Section carried away by freshet

-

Morena

San Diego

-

1912

Rockfill

Overtopping

-

Bear Gulch

San Francisquito River

1896

1914

Rolled earth

Drawdown slide

-

Davis

-

-

1914

Earth concrete face

Piping outlet structure caused rapid washout of filling

-

Owen Reservoir

-

-

1914

Earth

Leakage around outlet structure

-

Sepulvida Canyon

-

-

1914

Earth, reinf concrete

Overtopping

-

Lower Otay

San Diego

-

1916

-

Leakage and overtopping due to inadequate spillway

30

Mendota

-

-

1916

-

Undermined

-

Sweetwater

San Diego County

-

1916

Concrete

Overtopping

-

Calaveras

36 mi. SE of San Francisco

1914-25

1918

Semi-hydraulic earth

Concrete outlet tower toppled over during construction

-

Lake Hodges

San Diego

1918

1918

-

Cracks in pier

-

San Pablo

Oakland

1921

1921

Hydraulic fill

Fill loss through riprap

-

Gem Lake

Rush Creek

1917

1925

-

Partial failure

-

Sheffield

Santa Barbara

-

1925

Rolled earth

Earthquake slide

-

Diandi

McMahan Creek

1924

1926

Earth

Overtopping due to settlement

-

Half Moon Bay

-

-

1926

Rolled earth

Overtopping

-

Puddingstone

Pomona

-

1926

Hydraulic fill

Overtopping during construction

-

Bowman

Canyon Creek

1875

1927

-

Dismantled

-

Lake Hemet

Palm Springs

1895

1927

Earth

Overtopping

-

Lafayette

Lafayette Creek

1928

1928

Rolled earth

Foundation slide during construction

-

Saint Francis

San Francisquito Canyon

1926

1928

Concrete gravity

Sudden failure at full capacity through foundation

426

De Sabla Forebay

Chico

1903

1932

Earth

Piping thru embankment

-

Cogswell

Monrovia

1934

1934

Rockfill

Breaching of concrete cover

-

Puck-a-chucky

American River

-

1940

-

Slide led to contract cancellation

-

Lake Yosemite

Merced County

-

1943

Earth

-

-

Stockton Creek

Mariposa

1950

1950

Rolled earth

At abundtment

-

Yuba (new)

-

1949

1951

Rolled earth

Seepage slide

-

Newell Creek

Santa Cruz

-

1961

Earth

Slide during drilling for grout curtain

-

Baldwin Hills

Los Angeles

-

1963

-

Leak through embankment turned into washout

3

Hell Hole

Rubicon River

-

1964

Rockfill

Failed during construction due to unprecedent rains

-

Matilija

Ventura

1949

1965

Concrete gravity

Bad foundation and concrete disintegrating

-

Cane Valley

San Joaquin River

1910

-

Rockfill

Riprap displaced by waves

-

Groose Creek

-

-

-

-

Overtopping

-

Mast

Mendocino

1963

-

-

-

-