The upper and lower Van Norman dams, in northwesternmost San Fernando Valley about 20 mi (32 km) northwest of downtown Los Angeles, were severely damaged during the 1971 San Fernando earthquake. An investigation of the geologic-seismologic setting of the Van Norman area indicates that an earthquake of at least M 7.7 may be expected in the Van Norman area. The expectable transitory effects in the Van Norman area of such an earthquake are as follows: peak horizontal acceleration of at least 1.15 g, peak velocity of displacement of 4.43 ft/sec (135 cm/sec), peak displacement of 2.3 ft (70 cm), and duration of shaking at accelerations greater than 0.05 g, 40 sec. A great earthquake (M 8+) on the San Andreas fault, 25 mi distant, also is expectable. Transitory effects in the Van Norman area from such an earthquake are estimated as follows: peak horizontal acceleration of 0.5 g, peak velocity of 1.97 ft/sec (60 cm/sec), displacement of 1.31 ft (40 cm), and duration of shaking at accelerations greater than 0.05 g, 80 sec.
The permanent effects of the expectable local earthquake could include simultaneous fault movement at the lower damsite, the upper damsite, and the site proposed for a replacement dam halfway between the upper and lower dams. The maximum differential displacements due to such movements are estimated at 16.4 ft (5 m) at the lower damsite and about 9.6 ft (2.93 m) at the upper and proposed damsites.
The 1971 San Fernando earthquake (M 6?) was accompanied by the most intense ground motions ever recorded instrumentally for a natural earthquake. At the lower Van Norman dam, horizontal accelerations exceeded 0.6 g, and shaking greater than 0.25 g lasted for about 13 see; at Pacoima dam, 6 mi (10 km) northeast of the lower dam, high-frequency peak horizontal accelerations of 1.25 g were recorded in two directions, and shaking greater than 0.25 g lasted for about 7 sec.
Permanent effects of the earthquake include slope failures in the embankments of the upper and lower Van Norman dams, rupturing of the ground surface by faulting along parts of the zone of old faults that extends easterly through the reservoir area and across the northern part of the valley, folding or arching of the ground surface, and differential horizontal displacement of the terrane north and south of the fault zone.
Although a zone of old faults extends through the reservoir area, the 1971 surface ruptures apparently did not; however, arching and horizontal displacements caused small relative displacements of the abutment areas of each of the three damsites. The 1971 arching coincided with preexisting topographic highs, and the surface ruptures coincided with eroded fault scarps and a buried ground-water impediment formed by pre-1971 faulting in young valley fill. This coincidence with evidence of past deformation indicates that the 1971 deformations were the result of a continuing geologic process that is expected to produce similar deformations during future events.
The 1971 San Fernando earthquake probably was not the largest that has occurred in this area during the last approximately 200 years, as indicated by a buried fault like scarp about 200 years old that is higher than, and aligned with, 1971 fault scarps. In addition, the San Fernando zone of 1971 ruptures is part of a regional tectonic system that includes the San Andreas and associated faults; one of these, the White Wolf fault north of the San Andreas, is symmetrical in structural attitude with the San Fernando zone and ruptured the ground surface during the 1952 Kern County earthquake (M 7.7). Other large earthquakes associated with surface rupturing on faults of this system include the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake (M 8+) and possibly the 1852 Big Pine earthquake. Several other historic earthquakes in this general area are not known to be associated with surface ruptures, but were large enough to cause damage in the northern San Fernando Valley.
The Van Norman rese
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USGS Numbered Series
Geologic environment of the Van Norman Reservoirs area