EPA Probes Fremont Vandalism That Ruined Dam, Allowed Water to Escape

The inflatable dam on Alameda Creek the day after it was vandalized. (Alameda County Water District)

Note: This story has been updated to include details of the damage to the Alameda County Water District dam.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has launched an investigation into what authorities believe was an act of vandalism against a dam on Alameda Creek in Fremont.

The incident damaged an inflatable dam, leading to the loss of more than 150 acre-feet of water -- about 49 million gallons. That's enough to supply about 500 households for a year, the Alameda County Water District says. The agency serves about 340,000 people in Fremont, Newark and Union City.

The Fremont Police Department says it's investigating the May 21 incident and has increased patrols near the dam. The water district says it has beefed up security around its equipment.

Several large holes were found in the deflated dam, according to Fremont police spokeswoman Geneva Bosques.

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"A sharp object -- we don't know what specifically -- was used to slice or cut the thick rubber, which released the air," she said.

Bosques added that at this point, the investigation has gone "totally stale."

The episode has prompted the EPA to look into whether the federal Safe Drinking Water Act was violated, EPA spokeswoman Suzanne Skadowski said. That law makes it a crime to tamper with a public water system.

Robert Shaver, the water district's general manager, said the agency is also reviewing its security practices. He said security has "worked fine for over 30 years. We've never experienced anything like this before."

While the water loss was substantial, especially with utility agencies throughout California under orders to cut consumption during the drought, the agency has said it will not affect its long-term operations.

Last week, the district's board of directors awarded a $2.4 million contract to replace the dam. Shaver says the agency hopes to have the new dam in place by this fall.

The inflatable dam is made of rubber and is one of two such dams the district maintains on Alameda Creek. They're raised to impound water, which the district transfers to underground storage. The dams are lowered during storms to allow the creek to flow into San Francisco Bay.