News Feature | May 29, 2019

Dam Protecting Disneyland, Orange County At 'High Urgency' For Flooding Risk

Peter Chawaga - editor

By Peter Chawaga

In the event of a major storm in Southern California, the “Happiest Place on Earth” may become substantially less so.

“Federal engineers are raising alarms that a ‘significant flood event’ could compromise the spillway of Southern California’s aging Prado Dam and potentially inundate dozens of Orange County communities from Disneyland to Newport Beach,” according to the Los Angeles Times. “After conducting an assessment of the 78-year-old structure earlier this month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that it was raising the dam’s risk category from ‘moderate’ to ‘high urgency.’”

In some ways, the imperiled dam is similar to lots of other water and wastewater infrastructure throughout the country. From lead service lines in Pittsburgh to cyanotoxin defenses in Oregon, much of it is in desperate need of extensive rehabilitation. But the high-profile location of this dam and the size of the community its rupture could affect seem to have brought special urgency to fixing it.
“Given concerns that Prado Dam poses a flood threat to much of Orange County, the [Army Corps of Engineers] is collaborating with Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties and several dozen municipalities to develop emergency plans that could be implemented before repairs to the dams are completed,” per the Times. “Col. Aaron Barta said the retrofit operations … could begin as early as 2021.”

In the meantime, efforts are underway to alert nearby residents to the potential danger. While the structure is relatively close to Disneyland, a storm-based break could affect more than a million locals before waters reached the theme park.

“The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is currently working on interim and permanent risk-reduction measures at the Prado Dam, as well as public outreach strategies to alert to the approximate 1.4 million people who live and work in 29 communities downstream of the Santa Ana River, the area that would potentially be affected by the flooding,” per Inside the Magic, a website that reports on theme park news. “While there is a risk for flooding, only time will tell the consequences. But just as Disneyland Resort is committed to keeping its guests safe, the Army Corps is also committed to keeping the [Southern] California communities safe from potential flooding.”

To read more about how municipalities prepare for flooding and potential emergencies, visit Water Online’s Resiliency Solutions Center.