The gates releasing water from Lake Kaweah east of Visalia are closed and out of commission due to an equipment failure, the Army Corps of Engineers said Friday.
For now, water is being released from Terminus Dam via a secondary system that feeds a hydroelectric power plant.
There is no danger to the public from the malfunction, but if the problem is not repaired soon, farmers might get less water during the first summer heat wave.
A temporary repair is planned, the corps said.
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Corps official gave this account of what went wrong:
The gates are operated by hydraulic equipment inside a concrete tower sticking out of the lake next to the main dam.
On April 25, a water pipe inside the tower broke, causing the tower to flood and the hydraulic equipment inside to stop working, said Phil Deffenbaugh, an Army Corps ranger at the lake.
Our plan is to have everything operational prior to the needs of the irrigators.
Phil Deffenbaugh, Army Corp ranger at Lake Kaweah
The cause of the leak is unknown, but age could be factor.
“The tower is 60 years old,” Deffenbaugh said.
It’s rare for the dam to have a breakdown of this magnitude.
“It’s something I think about at night when I go home,” Deffenbaugh said.
There’s no danger of the lake getting so full it overflows, he said. The lake is rising about a foot a day and would take a month to fill at current rates.
Friday, a diver went into the flooded tower to try to plug the leak. When the leak is fixed, the water will be pumped out.
From there, portable hydraulic equipment will be installed inside the tower to operate the gates for the time being.
All the water rights holders will receive their water. They may not get it at the time they request to have it.
Mark Larsen, general manager, Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District
A permanent repair will take months.
It’s unknown how long it will take to do the temporary repair, but “the gates could be open within a few weeks,” Deffenbaugh said.
“Our plan is to have everything operational prior to the needs of the irrigators,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District, which manages downstream water flows to farmers, is watching the situation closely, general manager Mark Larsen said.
“I’m optimistic,” he said. “If they repair it in time – great.”
Although the secondary system through the hydro plant can release lots of water, it’s less than would be needed during a midsummer hot spell, he said.
“All the water-rights holders will receive their water,” he said. “They may not get it at the time they request to have it.”