San Vicente Dam Raise Wins Global Acclaim

December 06, 2023

International commission lauds Water Authority project to increase water storage

The San Diego County Water Authority this week received a prestigious international engineering award for using an innovative construction technology to raise the historic San Vicente Dam – a project that helps ensure regional water security for generations to come.

Meeting in Guangzhou, China, the International Commission on Large Dams presented the Water Authority with its highest honor for a special type of construction called roller compacted concrete, or RCC. That method simplified construction at San Vicente Dam to save time and money on a structure capable of withstanding a 7.5 magnitude earthquake.

Completed in 2014, the dam raise project increased the height of San Vicente Dam by 117 feet, the equivalent of adding a 12-story building atop the original structure. It more than doubled the capacity of the San Vicente Reservoir by adding 152,000-acre feet of water storage capacity, enough to serve more than 450,000 households for a year.

“This award is a reminder that the San Diego region has a long history of strategic investments to protect our most important natural resource,” said Water Authority Board Chair Mel Katz. “The San Vicente Dam Raise was a landmark project and one that inspires us as we seek solutions to current and future challenges.”

San Vicente Dam has been owned and operated by the City of San Diego since it was built in 1943. Capacity in the enlarged reservoir is shared by the city and the Water Authority, which also share the cost of operating the reservoir.

“Raising the San Vicente Dam was a massive feat of engineering and it’s recognized as the world’s tallest dam extension using roller compacted concrete,” said Water Authority Engineering Director Neena Kuzmich. “More importantly, it was the final major element of the Water Authority’s $1.5 billion Emergency Storage Project, a system of reservoirs, pipelines and pumping stations designed to secure a six-month supply of drinking water for the San Diego region in case a natural disaster such as an earthquake or a prolonged drought interrupts imported water deliveries.”

Work to prepare the original dam and foundation for the expansion began in 2009. Using RCC for the expansion was a key design element. Unlike conventional wet concrete, which is poured, RCC uses less cement and water to create a cookie dough or clay-like texture.

Equally as strong as wet concrete, RCC is placed in layers one on top of the other and compacted. The placement process resembles road construction.

This state-of-the art application method significantly shortens construction time while meeting all technical requirements. Expansion of the San Vicente Reservoir, located just outside of Lakeside, concluded in June 2014. The dam now stands 337 feet tall.

In lieu of attending this week’s ceremony in China, the Water Authority sent a video about the San Vicente project. Watch the short video here: LINK

  • The San Diego County Water Authority sustains a $268 billion regional economy and the quality of life for 3.3 million residents through a multi-decade water supply diversification plan, major infrastructure investments and forward-thinking policies that promote fiscal and environmental responsibility. A public agency created in 1944, the Water Authority delivers wholesale water supplies to 23 retail water providers, including cities, special districts and a military base.

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