Campus: CSU, Hayward -- June 16, 2000

Grad Student Wins Award to Study Potential Bay Area Dam Failures

The impact of potential dam failures in the San Francisco Bay Area will be researched by a California State University, Hayward graduate student who has won a $10,000 scholarship from the U.S. Committee on Large Dams.

"I always wondered why a person would want to live beneath a dam," said Chris Kramer. She said the question motivated her to work on a bachelor's degree in environmental studies at Cal State Hayward, beginning in 1991 after the youngest of her three sons graduated from high school.

Kramer, a 52-year-old grandmother, earned her bachelor's degree in 1996. She will complete her master's degree in geography after completing her thesis, "What If? Preparedness for and Potential Impacts of Earthquake-Related Dam Failure."

She will receive the scholarship, which will help fund her research, at the organization's national conference in Seattle in July.

"Most people are not aware that there are more than 200 dams in the nine Bay Area counties," said Kramer, who lives in Castro Valley near Lake Chabot, which will be included in her research. "Twenty-eight of them have a storage capacity of more than 5,000 acre feet, and those are the ones I'll concentrate on."

Kramer, who plans a career in emergency or urban planning, said breaks in any of the large Bay Area dams "could be catastrophic."

"After the San Fernando earthquake caused the evacuation of 70,000 people near a dam in Southern California, a number of new emergency planning laws were adopted," she said. "I want to look at how those laws have been implemented in the planning for possible breaks in the larger Bay Area dams."

Kramer already has done a year of research on her project under the supervision of professor Michael Lee from the CSUH Department of Geography and Environmental Studies.

"Chris is really dedicated and meticulous in a field that's very technical," Lee said. "Her confidence and ability have grown to the point where she can now talk with engineers for hours and not even break a sweat. She's an inspiration."

Lee said the USCOLD scholarship won by Kramer is the largest amount ever awarded to a student in his department.

Kramer's interest in dams and emergency planning received a boost when she worked as an intern for Jeannie Perkins of the Association of Bay Area Governments.

"It was the most rewarding year of my life," Kramer said. "It was wonderful on-the-job training."

In addition to other assignments, Kramer worked as a production assistant for two ABAG documentary films. "Hometown Blues," discussed urban sprawl and housing issues. For the second, Kramer and husband Ron were featured as do-it-yourselfers in "Stand Up to the Quake," a program designed to teach how to retrofit homes.

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