An excavator clears away brush along the Emerson Lake dam earlier this week in response to an order from the California Department of Water Resources, Division of Safety of Dams. Photo by Cindie Williams

State orders modifications to Emerson Lake dam

It might be hard to imagine the California Department of Water Resources, Division of Safety of Dams would be interested in dinky little bodies of water such as Emerson Lake at the Diamond Mountain Golf Club. But it is.

Jay Dow, a local rancher who owns Emerson Lake, the dam and its water, said the state is requiring him to “remove all the vegetation” on the reservoir.

Dow said other work on the dam will include new riff raff and fill along the top of the dam to give it “more freeboard” — the distance between the water level and the top of dam — but not to expand the water storage in the lake.

Dow expects the dam will be a foot or two higher when all the work is done.

“We’re going to put more rock on there, so it’s quite a project,” Dow said. “I argued not to take all the brush off because it’s going to be an eyesore, but they insisted because it gives rodents cover and rodents burrow in it.”

He admitted there are some rodents who burrow into the dam, but they haven’t caused any problems so far.

Dow said he’s received calls from many area residents regarding the project since they’ve seen one of his escavators working on the dam.

“I kind of hate to do it because it’s going to be ugly, but ever since Oroville Dam he state’s been really, really picky,” Dow said. “I hope it kind of grasses over. I hate to take out some of the bitter brush — it was eight or 10 feet tall — and the deer eat it.”

As the project continues, winter weather may slow the project until spring.

Dow uses water from the lake to irrigate his property across Richmond Road, but he said, “the spillway will remain the same, but we’ve got to clear all the brush out. It’s just a pain.”


California Department of Water Resources, Division of Safety of Dams

Since Aug. 14, 1929, the state of California has regulated dams to prevent failure, safeguard life and protect property. The California Water Code entrusts dam safety regulatory power to DWR, Division of Safety of Dams. We provide oversight to the design, construction, and maintenance of over 1,200 jurisdictional sized dams in California.

It ensures dam safety by:

  • Reviewing and approving dam enlargements, repairs, alterations, and removals to ensure that the dam appurtenant structures are designed to meet minimum requirements.
  • Performing independent analyses to understand dam and appurtenant structures performance. These analyses can include structural, hydrologic, hydraulic, and geotechnical evaluations.
  • Overseeing construction to ensure work is being done in accordance with the approved plans and specifications.
  • Inspecting each dam on an annual basis to ensure it is safe, performing as intended, and is not developing issues. Roughly 1/3 of these inspections include in-depth instrumentation reviews of the dam surveillance network data.
  • Periodically reviewing the stability of dams and their major appurtenances in light of improved design approaches and requirements, as well as new findings regarding earthquake hazards and hydrologic estimates in California.