Friant DamAndrew Laverdiere © Creative Commons 2016
The Friant Dam is one of three major dams in the giant Central Valley Project in Northern California, along with Shasta and Folsom, built by the federal Bureau of Reclamation. Initial funding for the CVP came through the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935. Friant was aided by funds from the Public Works Administratin (PWA). The concrete dam, which impounds the San Joaquin River, is 320 feet high and 3,500 feet long at the crest. The reservoir, Millerton Lake, holds about one-half million acre-feet of water at capacity.
The chief purpose of the dam is irrigation water supply. Water from Millerton Reservoir is shipped north through the Madera Canal and south through the Friant-Kern Canal in Kern County in the southern San Joaquin Valley. The dam also generates electricity and serves as flood control downstream. It has had a significant adverse effect on the San Joaquin River, which was dried up every summer for about 40 miles downstream and devastated the historic salmon runs of the river. Legal action by environmentalists led, after twenty years of litigation, to an agreement in 2006 to allow summer releases to keep the water flowing, but this takes water away from irrigators who have been hostile to the accord.
In 1939, the head of the PWA, Harold Ickes, said, as he broke ground for the dam: “Even those of us in Washington who are responsible for carrying out orders sometimes lack comprehension of the mighty sweep of this program.”
A plan is currently in the works to raise the height of the dam and enlarge Millerton Lake.
Two 1940 films provided by the Madera County Historical Society and held at the Madera County Library, document the construction of the dam.
Thompson, Clay; Thompson, Inez, Publication date 1940, Friant Dam, Before, During and After Construction, (https://archive.org/details/cma_000077), and Friant Dam Construction, (https://archive.org/details/cma_000068), accessed February 5, 2018.
Friant Dam, Before, During and After Construction by Thompson, Clay; Thompson, Inez Publication date 1940: (https://archive.org/details/cma_000077), accessed February 5, 2018.
Friant Dam Construction: (https://archive.org/details/cma_000068), accessed February 5, 2018.
The Frenso Bee, October 23, 1935.
Project originally submitted by The Living New Deal on October 23, 2010.
Additional contributions by Andrew Laverdiere, February 5, 2018.
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