The Detroit and Big Cliff Dams

The Detroit and Big Cliff Dams

Detroit Dam
Detroit Dam

Detroit Dam
Pho­to Bob Heims, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

The decade of the 1930’s was an era of large gov­ern­ment build­ing projects.  Many under­tak­en to counter the eco­nom­ic hard­ships of the Great Depres­sion.  The 1930’s also saw the pop­u­la­tion and indus­tri­al devel­op­ment in the North San­ti­am Canyon final­ly reach lev­els that would eco­nom­i­cal­ly jus­ti­fy a flood con­trol project.  So the Detroit Dam com­plex, which includes Big Cliff Dam, was  autho­rized by the Flood Con­trol Act of 1938.  Con­struc­tion began in March 1949, sev­er­al years after the Sec­ond World War and four years lat­er in May 1953, the dam was finished.

Present Day Management of River Flow

Today, the Army Corps of Engi­neers still man­age the dams to reduce the risk of flood­ing.  The Corps man­ages riv­er flow by tim­ing the stor­age and release of water in Detroit Reser­voir dur­ing the rainy sea­son.  They hold more water in the reser­voir dur­ing high runoff times then release it grad­u­al­ly dur­ing dry months when the riv­er run low and the dan­ger of flood­ing is past.   The Corps releas­es water from mid-April to the end of Novem­ber for:

  • pow­er generation
  • irri­ga­tion and
  • to improve water qual­i­ty and con­di­tions for migrat­ing and spawn­ing fish

Water stored in Detroit Reser­voir also sup­ports an eco­nom­i­cal­ly impor­tant recre­ation industry.




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