Ahwahnee Dam Collapses, Lake Disappears

February 23, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
It's an important wildlife area and was supposed to be the centerpiece of a huge regional park.All the water in the 20 acre pond disappeared when the earthen wall holding it back collapsed. Along with the water went, fish, turtles, frogs, all kinds of wildlife. And the folks here lost an important recreation area.

Tony Ward, Ahwahnee resident, says "This is the marquee of the park. The lake is where we were going to have picnic tables, and the hiking trails would end up there. So, for the park itself, we've got a lot to do now to catch up and bring it back to what we envisioned."

Ward is a member of a local group working to build the Ahwahnee Hills regional park; 240 acres of oak woodlands and mountain meadows that surround the lake.

Madera County hopes to repair the dam, which was built more than 80 years ago when this property was part of the grounds of a state tuberculosis hospital, and refill the lake. But because this is area is a key wildlife habitat state and federal agencies are getting involved.

"The wildlife here has a tremendous setback; because that was the, again, focal point, migrating deer stop there, the ducks the geese and so forth. It is an impact to the community of Ahwahnee, both for the people in Ahwahnee and the wildlife in Ahwahnee," says Ward.

The lake was also a convenient spot for firefighting helicopters to fill their water buckets.

The Madera County engineers office says fixing this won't be easy, or cheap. Meeting federal standards for dams could mean this repair job will require a mountain of paper work, and could cost at least a million dollars.


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