St. Francis Dam Disaster

VENTURA, Calif. – The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on August 2, 2016, to support the creation of a National Memorial and Monument to honor the victims of the St. Francis Dam collapse in 1928. Reps. Steve Knight and Julia Brownley introduced the bill to establish the memorial and monument in May 2016.

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 5244 on July 5, and now the legislation has been referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for further consideration. Supervisor Kathy Long, whose district includes the Santa Clara Valley, requested the Board action in support of the bill.

“The death and destruction left by the collapse of the St. Francis Dam continues to scar the hearts of the residents, and has forever altered the landscape, in the Santa Clara Valley and beyond,” said Long. “I am proud to support the efforts of Congressional Members Julia Brownley and Steve Knight as they seek to honor the memories of the lives lost, and the stories of heroism, by establishing a permanent National Memorial and Monument.”

The St. Francis Dam was constructed in San Francisquito Canyon near the present-day city of Santa Clarita in 1928. It was designed to create a reservoir for water from the Owens River brought to Southern California by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The dam failed catastrophically just before midnight on March 12, 1928, sending a massive wall of water down the canyon and into the Santa Clara River Valley.

In just five hours, the water flowed from the dam all the way to the Pacific Ocean, leaving behind it a path of death and destruction. More than 400 people were killed in the torrent and hundreds of houses, farm buildings, bridges and other structures were destroyed.

“I am so pleased that the House passed the ‘Saint Francis Dam Disaster National Memorial Act,’” said Brownley. “It will commemorate and remember the Ventura County residents who were killed, injured or displaced due to the disaster, which was among the worst civil engineering disasters in our history.”

The only remaining traces of the dam are large pieces of broken concrete and some rusted handrails. The site is frequently vandalized and historic artifacts are stolen, despite the fact that the site is registered as a California Historical Landmark. There has been no federal recognition of the disaster or the lives lost due to the event. The federal legislation would correct that oversight.

“This legislation is long overdue,” said Knight. “The victims of the St. Francis Dam Disaster deserve to be memorialized. I am very pleased that the Ventura County Board of Supervisors is joining me in this effort and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to ensure that the monument becomes a reality.”

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