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San Luis Dam

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The San Luis Dam is behind the fourth largest off-stream reservoir and dam in the U.S. Located between Los Banos and Gilroy in California, the Central Valley Project was devised to store storm water to be released when needed. The dam, standing 305 feet (93 m) is adjacent to a reservoir capable of holding more than two million acres (809,371 ha) of surplus water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The project was proposed in December 1955 and completed in August 1967.[1]

Also known as the B.F. Sisk Dam, it is filled with earth to a height of 382 feet (116 m) and a length of 18,600 feet (5,669 m) at the foot of the Diablo Mountains.[2]

Water is stored during the winter and spring, and released by the San Luis Pumping-Generating Plant in the summer and winter, when surplus water is needed.

The project was a joint venture between Morrison-Knudsen and Utah Construction & Mining and Brown & Root.[3]

Contents

[edit] Construction History

[edit] Planning the Dam

At the time of its proposal, the San Luis Dam was referred to as “the most ambitious public works project ever built.” Blueprints were drawn up by 1961 at a projected cost of $433 million, with a 45-55 split responsibility of the cost to the federal and state government.[4]

John Bucholz was appointed as the construction engineer for the project, with T.P. Bixby as the field engineer and Morrison-Knudsen as the contractor.

The project arose from years of needing a permanent solution for its water source, being one of the largest dams in the world with one of California’s smallest creeks. The area suffered heavily from drought and a few previous canal systems and pumps were unable to resolve the problem.[5]

Initially describing the area as a “ plain of absolute desolation,” William Henry Brewer, leader of the first California Geologic Survey, soon discovered that the problem could be resolved with a little water.[6]

[edit] Dam Composition and Construction

The dam is composed of five zones. Zone 1, the embankment zone, holds 41 million yards (38 million m) of clay, silt, sand, gravel, and other materials. The area was compacted into six-inch (15-cm) layers by tamping rollers. Zones 2 and 3 consisted of sand, gravel, and cobbles and were compacted into 12-inch (30-cm) layers. Zone 4 required the compaction of larger rock materials ranging from 3/16 inch (0.5 cm) and eight inches (20 cm) into 12-inch (30-cm) layers, a task completed by a crawler tractor. The final zone was completed two months earlier than predicted.[7]

The site was constructed with a variety of machinery. Euclid provided a belt-loader with a 635-horsepower engine to drive the conveyor and non-powered crawlers around the site.[8] The Bucyrus-Erie  684-WX bucket wheel excavator removed 40 million cubic yards (31 million m3) of earth with its 810-ton Kolbe design. Hundreds of tons were removed every minute just from the embankment point. Shovels, including the Bucyrus-Eried 88B and 280B electric shovel, the Manitowoc 4500 dragline helped remove tens of million cubic yards of earth. One shovel, had a 30-foot diameter excavation wheel—10 bucket shovels each scooped 2.5 tons of earth. Each bucket of dirt was dumped onto one of the fastest conveyor belts ever built. In total, 14 million tons of basalt was removed.[9] 

With the bucket wheel excavators handling a majority of the work, the project also saw a total of 400 pieces of construction equipment removing 100,000 cubic yards (76,455 m3) per day in 1964. The equipment used was worth $12 million. Of this massive collection, the project employed 33 of the largest rigs as well as hauling units ranging from 75 to 100 tons, a 15-cubic yard (11.5 m3 electric shovel, and a quarry drill. other drills included the Gardner-Denver ATD3000 crawler drill, the Bucyrus-Erie 50R rotary drill.

The conveyor belt was met by a 100-ton capacity bottom-dump trailer that removed the materials. The vehicle was made multi-functional with its 900 horsepower generator set, as it was used to power some of the other equipment on-site. Assisting in the removal process were Caterpillar D7, D8 and D9 crawler tractors, Euclid wheel loaders, Euclid R12 end-dump truck and Cat 660 tractors. Smoothening the surface also required heavy equipment such as the Cat 16 motor grader, a sheepsfoot roller, and a tamping roller.

Cranes were used for a variety of  hoisting tasks. The P and H truck crane, Austin-Western 220 hydraulic crane, P&H/Liebherr T154/110C tower cranes were just some of the many cranes that were employed in the project.

A series of other heavy equipment was also used; this include lube trucks, lube island, fuel trucks, power packers and Athey PR660 rock wagons.

The San Luis Dam project was completed in August 1967, two months before expected. The cost of construction was lower than estimated at $312.5 million.

The project also included a lake that the Bureau called “one of the few manmade structures expected to be identifiable by astronauts who reach the moon.”[10]

The major construction feat was able to fit 24,500 acre-feet (3,022 ha m) of water storage space in its reserve. The lake was completed on May 31, 1969, two years after initial construction.

[edit] Equipment Used

[edit] Unique Facts

  • Six workers died between 1963 and 1965.
  • There were some problems with the dam and canal after completion. The drainage system sparked criticism in 1981 when it was reported in the news that waterfowls were sick and mutated. Reclamation resolved this issue by fending off migrating birds with sirens and by surrounding the reservoir with dirt.
  • The summer of 1981 also brought a “knocking noise in the pentocks.” The dam was damaged when 400,000 cubic yards (305,822 m3) of dirt from the embankment slid 177 feet (54 m) toward the crest. The area was restored in August 1982.
  • A dry season in the late 1980s saw the reservoir with its lowest level of water in 15 years.[12]

[edit] References

  1. San Luis Reservoir and Dam. The Center for Land Use Interpretation, 2008-09-24.
  2. Central Valley Project - West San Joaquin Division / San Luis Unit - California. US Bureau of Reclamation, 2008-09-24.
  3. Construction History. USBR Gov. 2008-10-27.
  4. Central Valley Project: The San Luis Unit and West San Joaquin Division. US Bureau of Reclamation, 2008-09-24.
  5. San Luis Reservoir SRA. California State Parks, 2008-09-24.
  6. Central Valley Project: The San Luis Unit and West San Joaquin Division. US Bureau of Reclamation, 2008-09-24.
  7. Central Valley Project: The San Luis Unit and West San Joaquin Division. US Bureau of Reclamation, 2008-09-24.
  8. San Luis Dam. Construction Equipment. 2008-10-27.
  9. Haddock, Keith. The Earthmover Encyclopedia. Motorbooks: St. Paul, 2003.
  10. Central Valley Project - West San Joaquin Division / San Luis Unit - California. US Bureau of Reclamation, 2008-09-24.
  11. Euclid Belt Loader. Construction Equipment. 2008-10-27.
  12. Central Valley Project - West San Joaquin Division / San Luis Unit - California. US Bureau of Reclamation, 2008-09-24.